Thursday, August 21, 2008

Libraries.. and reading

Teabird made a post today about libraries…This post is a comment on her post--made here, because it was too long really for a comment!

I didn’t really read (or I don’t remember really reading) before school.

I read words, (Stop, Webster (Ave) Milk, etc) but not sentences. I might have stumbled too, with sentences till about 2nd grade, when I clearly remember READING.

My mother, a great reader, never read to us. (Not to me, not to my siblings)
She set an example, and took us to the library, (and let us take books out) but I don’t remember her reading the books (for us/to us).

And poverty meant few books in the house --one 3 foot wide, 3 foot high book shelf was sufficient to hold all the families books for most of my childhood.

Still —I was lucky.

We moved when I was a preschooler from Astoria, Queens to the Fordham section of the Bronx. My local library there was the multi-storied Bronx Reference Center (It just relocated last year, and it was a page 1 (section B) story in the NYTimes)

The old location, the library I knew, was a huge. There were 2 main entrances, the Research division, --entered on Marion Avenue, and the general library (2 more floors!) entered on Bainbridge Avenue. The building was a full block deep! –Double deep-- about 200 feet, since in general, lots in the Bronx were 100 feet deep)—and about the 100 feet wide… a big building—and it was 3 stories high(it might have been 4—I have vague memories of another floor not open to the public)

Bronx is hilly, and grade between the two avenues/entrances was a full floor. Enter on Marion Avenue you entered the ground floor and research center (with a full basement full of material available on request.)

Enter on Bainbridge Ave., and you entered the Main reading lending section and the main floor—stacks and stacks of adult reading, plus the second floor –up a grand stone staircase--a full floor of childrens and young adults books.

The glory of this system was kids were free to make noise (not too much, but some!) –making the library an inviting place—since a whole floor separated us from adults seeking a quite place to read in a noisy city.

I suspect I was plopped down in reading programs, while my mother explored downstairs... There were, in those days, several librarians—or perhaps just 1 and several assistants—but there was always someone behind the desk to check in and out books, and someone on the ‘floor’ to help you find books.

I know I had a library card as soon as I could write my name--(kindergarten or earlier)—and when I graduated to my adult card, my mother signed off—and gave blanket permission for me to be able to check out any book. (Something she occasionally regretted, but never rescinded)

Going to the library was a weekly (if not more often) event in my childhood--it established a lifelong habit--one both my children share--and my grandchildren are learning.

Some 20 years ago, I made a resolution to read less fiction –my goal: 1 non-fiction book for every 2 pieces of fiction. I’ve pretty much stuck to that resolution.

My reading taste are eclectic—histories figure large, but I like to read math, too, and biography, too--doesn’t everybody?

The last 2 books I read were both non-fiction;
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Mary S. Lovell’s The Sisters:Saga of the Mitford Family
(but the 2 before these were both pieces of fiction)

PS: the half foot is now half a foot (6 inches) and the pockets will be an inset one… I’m photo documenting as I go, but there won’t be any posts this weekend, (and likely the next post will feature an almost finished pair of socks.)


Karen said...

I fondly remember hitting the library off of Queens Blvd in Forest Hills and sitting with my mom reading Madeline and Curious George. And then in Jr High, going to the library across the street from the school in Maspeth...having read all the teen romance books, moving into Stephen King, John Saul and anything else I could get my hands on.

The kid now loves the library, and I love that I can share that with him.

teabird said...

Those are such wonderful recollections!

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a life-changing book. You can't ever look at a forkful of food the same way again. The most shocking revelation of the way agribusiness has perverted the food chain was that salmons fisheries feed CORN to the salmon. If that isn't a step on the road to perdition, what is?

Robyn said...

Agree with Teabird! Pollan's description of our corn addiction will change your life forever.

One thing we love about our time in Newfoundland is that we have easy access to a great library in Corner Brook. I hate to say it, but our local Queens branches are the pits and we really miss our weekly visits. To this day I can hardly believe that I am allowed to check out any book on any subject. A candy store is what a library is!

sulu-design said...

I loved hearing about your experience with your library in the Bronx as a child. It reminded me of the 2nd graders I took to another library in the Bronx to get their library cards for the first time - such a wonderful experience!