Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reading Rooms

Susan Allen Toth and John Coughlan have edited a great collection of poems, essays, short stories, and excerpts featuring public libraries in their book, Reading Rooms.

The selections are grouped into nine chapters and depict:
"Small-Town Libraries"
"City Libraries"
"The Librarian"
"Children in the Library"
"Love in the Library"
"Mystery and Murder in the Library"
"Laughter in the Library"
"Reading-Room Reveries"
"Democracy in the Library"

Some of the selections were familiar: excerpts from Eudora Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings; from Main Street; from Betsy and Tacy Go Down Town; from Thimble Summer; from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; from Beezus and Ramona; and from Rufus M.

But there were many more that were new to me that I enjoyed, and some I did not find as compelling to read. One I liked a lot, and that had me requesting from PaperBackSwap the book in which it appeared, was "Bookworm" from Susan Allen Toth's book, A Small-Town Girlhood. Ms. Toth writes beautifully of her love for the Ames Public Library, and how her love for books and reading began and grew there. She tells the reader:

"When I moved to the Junior Room, probably at the age of ten or eleven, I decided, like many omnivorous readers, to begin with the A's and read through to the Z's. I thought this was obviously the best way of making sure I didn't miss anything. Though three walls of this large room were lined with books, I didn't think it would be impossible to cover it all. The Ames Public Library did have a human scale to it. I might have done so, too, except I found somewhat to my surprise that I was developing tastes. I didn't really like books about horses. I wasn't very interested in boy detectives. I didn't want to read anything if the author was trying too hard to be educational. I was happy through the B's, where I found Sue Barton, Rural Nurse; Sue Barton, Public Nurse; and Sue Barton, Superintendent of Nurses; but after that I bogged down quickly. I skipped ahead to the L's, where I had discovered Maud Hart Lovelace's sequential adventures of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, and promised myself I would someday return to the C's. But I never did."

My experience was so similar, although I'm sure the Hollifield Memorial Library was much smaller than the Ames Public Library. Still, at about the age of 10 I decided to work through the children's fiction alphabetically by author. Louisa May Alcott, L. Frank Baum, L.M. Boston, Elizabeth Enright, and Marguerite Henry were favorites that I'd return to again and again, especially when I read a dud. (For instance, I dutifully worked my way through all of Mary Stolz'z books, but found some of them pretty grim.)

And further on, in the "Murder and Mystery in the Library" chapter, there is a short story by Anthony Boucher that I loved: "QL696.C9"

Sadly, I do not see this book listed at PaperBackSwap , but Amazon has several copies for under $1.



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