MISS MOOX + wonderful

Library card

I have just become a fully-fledged member of my new community.

Last week, I moved from the farm into a room in a house in the nearest Big Town. Which, after the city of Toronto, seems like a small town, but to my amusement residents here insist on calling "the city".

However, part of residing once again in a somewhat more urban setting is the greater availability of amenities. The first I determined to take advantage of, after the supermarket, was the public library. With minimal investigation I happily discovered it is within reasonable walking distance of my house. So yesterday, armed with proof of residence (signed lease agreement) and photo ID (drivers license), I made a trip there over lunch hour. For the handing over of my documents and the filling out of a brief form with name and address, I received a spiffy new keychain library card. Just like that.

I am also now the proud possessor, for two weeks, of Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, complete with tantalizing amounts of informative text and photographs.

Libraries have to be one of the most incredibly amazing institutions of the civilized world. For minimal or zero fee, you have access to troves of the most wonderful substance on Earth: books. Freely yours is the most ancient and modern art, literature, knowledge, and thought, ranging from the sublime to the odd. Somewhere in those shelves is a book, or a video or DVD or tape, on any subject your heart desires, or a masterful work of fiction or poetry that may change your life forever. I hope heaven has a library.

Libraries are the fabric of vast swathes of memory from my childhood. From a very early age I can remember my mother shepherding us three, my brothers and I, to the local library, from whence we'd return with stacks of picture books. I can still see in vivid detail its interior and layout and even recall its smell. It's always sunny in those memories of the library.

We moved when I was eight, and the new library was driving distance away. Still regularly we'd make our pilgrimages to select suitable quantities of reading material for the next two weeks. Scanning the shelves was an art form for me, specific qualifications regarding age, genre and authorship my guidelines, only rarely overstepped. The classics were my swimming pool, a pool which rapidly grew narrower and narrower as I nearly exhausted the possibilities of our small local collection. Enormous numbers, twenty or thirty at a time, were required to keep me in reading, never failing to elicit gasps and tongue-clucks of astonishment from the librarians. Staggering with them to the desk, the car, and home was hazardous: aching arms and spills or near-spills of the precarious piles of books were a price I frequently paid for my voracious literary appetite.

But that quantity of printed word was necessary to keep me satiated till the next library trip. From the moment I arrived home, I shut myself in my room and was lost to the world. Libraries, and the books they contained, were my passport to hidden lands of adventure. I'd travel with Rudyard Kipling to India, or Miguel Cervantes to Spain, or Dickens to nineteenth-century England. I became Nancy Drew and Miss Marple. I was secretly certain that the fantasies of Mary Poppins or Alice in Wonderland were possibilities, and could sometimes be found looking for Borrowers. For days after reading a particularly impressive work, I lived it in my imagination. My vocabulary reflected it and I'm certain that from an outside perspective I could reasonably have been thought to be rather odd.

But books, and their characters, were my friends and companions during years when I had none. The worlds of the March sisters or the Pevensie children seemed far more appealing than my own dreary and circumscribed existence. They encountered adventure as regularly as afternoon tea, whereas my world went on depressingly and often horribly the same. Following them into their escapades allowed me to plunge into an alternate mindscape for at least the length of time the pages lasted, and emerge captivated and somewhat distracted.

It also inspired me to attempts at emulation. In style deliberately imitatory of my favourite authors, I could often be found banging out some promising nonsense on the ancient typewriter which was one of my prize possessions, or later on, the computer.

I learned almost everything from books. Geography, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, history—and the reams of widely varied and mainly useless triva which I seem to have an endless capacity for retaining, I owe mainly to reading. I can still recall a scientific study I read at the age of seven which demonstrated that people slept better while wearing wool socks than barefoot. It's a fact only occasionally useful and not one that generally enlivens social conversations. However, I'm sure I'm a richer person for all that I've absorbed, if only in the capacity for mental speculation.

I never lost my fascination with the printed word and quantities of information. Real life—college and work—diverted the flow in other directions and truncated the possibility of limitless hours spent with books. The internet soon became my primary resource. But the internet, useful as it is, can never replace, either in quantity, quality, or sheer pleasurableness, the experience of sitting down to enjoy a Good Book.

And I plan to do just that. One of the odd and unexpected side-benefits of finding myself in a new place, with few friends, and often too much spare time on my hands, is the opportunity to read again. Now that I have my library card, and a library just down the road, a world of adventure and learning awaits me once more. You'll find me there, often.

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