Yesterday, I found out that the Chapters nearest me is closing. EVERYTHING MUST GO, 50% off, SALE SALE SALE! The remaining books huddle together in a disorganized jumble, leaving the outer edges of the building like a ghost town of empty shelves and dust. On an unrelated note, this morning I (and most of you) lost an hour, but not in the way that indicates that you’re deep into a really great read. For Master Class this week, I used the prompt Piquant Libraries, partly out of nostalgia, but mostly because the first definition of piquant I think of is flavorful. And whether I’m reading a hard-cover book, an e-book checked out from the Public Library’s free online database, or an online story, good books, like good food, are filling in more ways than one.
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Growing up in a small town, Bailey never understood her mother’s love of libraries. The single small room allocated for books in the town hall was musty and uninspiring. It had three dog-eared copies of Where the Red Fern Grows, a complete set of Louis L’Amour’s novels, all but the first of the Narnia TV serial on VHS and an assortment of Christian children’s stories. Not inherently bad, but certainly not the most piquant of libraries.
Her mother had offered up a selection of her own books, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffrey, the Bronte sisters and Shelley to round it out a bit. The town council declined, saying there wasn’t much point in overloading the shelves of a government offered service that got such little use.
So Bailey and her mother kept their own library, milk cartons and 2×8’s to support their hodge-podge collection of books. Angela’s Airplane and Stone Soup from her earliest memories, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when she first started reading on her own. A complete set of the Narnia books. Sci-fi and Fantasy in the kitchen, Romance in the hall, biographies by the TV. Geography, History and Art by the desk. Mystery scattered throughout, because a good mystery surprises you.
None of the other kids in her school read much, perhaps unsurprisingly, but when they were required to choose a book to write a report on, they knew who to go to. Bailey would ask them questions – action? Drama? Love? Space? Cowboys? Knights? Spies? – and provide her friends with a selection to choose from. Her mother helped her in creating the check-out slips, even going so far as to buy a date stamp.
When the worst came to pass, Bailey and her library moved to the city where her mother had grown up. Her Aunt Mary helped her set up the shelves and smiled tearily as she recognized old friends from her own teen years.
Bailey buried herself in her books, overwhelmed by her grief and her new surroundings. The city was too loud, too busy, too chaotic. Mary suggested an after-school job, made a few calls and gave her an address.
The building smelled a bit musty, but from there it was a world away from that sad room from her childhood. A winged lion and a gryphon guarded the heavy doors, and light danced through tall windows and down the enormous central atrium. More than a single room – or even a single storey full of books – the library had storeys of stories, more books than Bailey had seen in her life.
And people – children running down the curved staircases clutching large picture books, people checking books out, dropping them off, standing in the aisles reading the back, and curled up in comfy chairs lost in a book. The library was so much more than its books, and standing in the quiet vastness of it, Bailey fell in love.
“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith, Librarian.