Let Us Now Praise Libraries, Librarians

An article in the Boston Sunday Globe caught my eye this morning, with the headline “Let Us Now Praise Libraries, Librarians.” (A true librarian would have titled it “Let Us Now Praise Librar*”; hats off to you if you get the joke.) The article’s author, Anthony Doerr, writes about his childhood reading, “Here’s what I think about now: No one ever told me no. Not Mom, not the prim librarians stamping return dates onto slip after slip. No one ever said: This book is outside your age range; this book is too complicated.”

I had a similar childhood experience, reading far ahead of my “age appropriate reading level” and not coming to any harm. I’ve thought about this topic before (see the last three paragraphs of the post “Whose Common Sense?“), and I’m glad to see a similar attitude in print. Doerr writes, “…I worry that we are presenting reading to our kids as a labor to suffer through for which a reward can be earned at the end….The message to young people is obvious: Books are good for you. What’s missing, however, is the idea that sustained reading is magic, a kind of magic that can be wildly addictive, even dangerous.”

He then goes on to create a fantastic analogy, based on the fact that when the brain is stimulated (“when a person is thinking imaginatively and creatively”), it produces endorphins: “Great books are like drugs, readers [are] like junkies, and, yes, to stretch the analogy into absurdity, good librarians [are] like drug dealers.” He finishes, “So, to all you beautiful librarians out there, with National Library Week in the offing….Keep on putting books in the hands of readers, because as every good dealer knows, all it takes is one fix and your patrons are hooked.”

One of the most magical, engaging, imaginative, creative books I can think of is Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine, which is the first of six books (all equally magical) detailing the correspondence between Griffin and Sabine. It’s not your typical epistolary novel (see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, also an excellent book), because each postcard and letter Griffin and Sabine exchange is rendered with “their” artwork and handwriting; the reader pulls actual letters out of actual envelopes. (For this reason, my first encounter with the books was in Special Collections at the Mount Holyoke College library.) If you can find these, I highly recommend them; you will find yourself immersed and filled with wonder. “Sustained reading is magic,” indeed.

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