Friday, October 21, 2011

Stories of Two Readers for Dewey's Read-a-Thon Day

Photo Credit: Michael Wade Carlton, 2007
In honor of Dewey’s Read-a-Thon on Saturday, my friend Joy Weese Moll and I are posting our reading tales, childhood stories about reading. We grew up in the same small town, so we share similar experiences but focused on different ones when writing about our memories of reading. One thing strong in the mind of us both are our memories of the Carnegie public library in our hometown. 

A Reading Tale

By Kathy Carlton Willis

The love of story leads us all to devote time from our busy schedules to visit a new world, a new time, a new way of life. Because time is precious, it makes sense to maximize our reading experiences as much as possible. I’ve always been a lover of books. What’s your rite-of-passage book story?

I’ll start with my own reading tale.

My mother encouraged me to learn to read as soon I started school. She was a voracious reader, eager for me to develop the same love of books she had. This Chatty Kathy loved every form of communications since my first spoken word, and the written word was no different. I took to it like gravy goes with biscuits. Remember those Weekly Reader magazines (oh, the delicious smell of the ink and paper!)? And the SRA Reading Lab inspired me to read not just for speed, but for retention—thanks to those specialized tests. It was my goal to make it through each level before the appointed time. To this day, I still like to beat deadlines.

I received my first public library card as soon as I started school, and Mom walked us kids to the library several times a month to pick up books. Yes, it seemed like it was two miles uphill both ways, but it was worth it! Our little town of four thousand was blessed with a Carnegie library (built in 1905) full of well-loved books. Mom taught me how to follow my favorite authors, and I read every title they’d ever written. I knew how to thumb through a card catalog and recite the Dewey decimal system as well as I could spell my own name. By the time I outgrew the children’s section, I had read every book and graduated to the “grown-up” shelves.

Now I’ve grown up even more. My love affair for words inspired me to start my own communications firm, so I get to fiddle with words all day long. We promote authors and books, and present programs to various groups, stringing together words we’ve written, edited, proposed, sung, spoken, coached, pitched, and more! Words thrill me. Story entices me—draws me in—beckons to me.

Most avid readers have been caught saying their idea of a time-out from stress and life involves curling up with a good book—claw-foot tub or blazing fireplace optional. Some readers aren’t quite as gung ho to dig in to their “to be read” piles. They want to like to read, but they aren’t quite there yet.

My favorite reading tip is this: Don’t waste time on a mediocre book. When reading for recreation, remember that you aren’t in school anymore. You aren’t being graded for reading every word. So if a book doesn’t appeal to you, put it down! Grab a different one. We have only so much time in life—definitely not enough time to get bogged down with a boring or confusing story line. Just because a book earned rave reviews doesn’t mean it’s the right book for you, any more than gorgeous size 7 shoes will fit size 10 feet!

Think about your own reading tale. What was it like when you learned to read? What turned you on to books? Do you recall the favorite authors of your early years? Who inspired you to read more? Did reading lists and contests in school motivate you to try harder? What challenges you today in your reading? We all have a story—even a reading story!

Louisiana (MO) Public Library

By Joy Weese Moll

The stone building that housed my hometown public library seemed a castle filled with books when I was twelve. Walking up the steps to the bright red double doors, I approached the entrance to a place of magic.

The previous summer, I exhausted the library’s small collection of books for children by finishing the L. Frank Baum series of Oz books. I wanted to advance to the adult room for more books. In particular, after reading my mother’s copy of Little Women over the winter, I was eager to read Little Men.

With both hands and leaning back my body for counterweight, I pulled the iron handle of the heavy door while crafting a plan to prove my worthiness for the adult room. Once through the foyer, two sensations rushed over me, the refreshing coolness of air conditioning and the comforting smell of books. After nodding to the librarian as a greeting, I went to the children’s shelves to search for my book. As I remembered, Frank L. Baum filled much of one shelf. Scanning back to the authors beginning with A, there was no Alcott.

The card catalog was next to the children’s shelves. I’d never consulted it at the public library, but we learned how at school. Trusting it to be similar, I slowly slipped open the drawer marked ‘Authors A,’ trying to minimize the sound of sliding wood in the quiet room. A card for Little Men told me that the library owned a copy. Then I was stuck. The organization of the adult room remained a mystery to me and I was unsure if I could be stopped for entry without permission. I wrote the call number, simply the first three letters of the author’s last name, on the provided scrap paper as I learned in school.

I approached the wood counter behind which Mrs. Sterne ruled all she saw, the children’s shelves, the card catalog, and the entrance to the adult room. “Yes?” she glanced up from the stack of books that she sorted onto a library cart.

“I’m looking for Little Men by Louisa May Alcott,” I said in a rush, holding up my slip with the letters ALC on it.

“Fiction is through the door, along the wall, alphabetical by author. The A’s start on the right.” Apparently, there was no protocol. All I had to do was cross the threshold and I would be in the adult room with a vista of books, ten times as many as in the children’s section. I scurried through the doorway before Mrs. Sterne could change her mind.

Once out of her line of sight, I found the copy of Little Men that I craved and was thrilled to discover several other books with ALC on the spine: Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom. Alone except for a man absorbed in his study of books open on the table in front of him, I took a few moments to explore this new space. Tip-toeing down the alphabet of dark wood shelves built into plastered walls, I passed the novels of Victoria Holt and Emilie Loring, all the way to Elswyth Thane shelved next to the portrait of Andrew Carnegie over the unused fireplace.

Clutching Little Men, I walked sedately, as befitted a newly-minted initiate to the inner sanctum of the library, to the counter to check out my first book from the adult shelves at the Louisiana Public Library in Louisiana, Missouri.

What are your early memories of libraries?

Joy Weese Moll is a librarian writing about books at Joy's Book Blog.