That’s What She Said: The world unlocked by reading
- Dawn Dumont | October 10, 2019
Going to the library has always been an adventure – which is probably the dorkiest thing I have ever written. But I still remember those earliest visits.
When I was six, our class would line up and walk in tight formation through the halls. I went to a small town school with Kindergarten to Grade 12 so it was always exhilarating to see the sheer number of students (about 300 tops but big to us). Plus, the grade ones averaged about three feet – except for that one kid who was always a foot taller than everyone else, you know who you are, Roy - and how tall the other students were in the bigger grades! Basically, giants. And the older students would offer our tiny convoy a quick glance, maybe one girl might say, “cute,” which we would smile crookedly at but be secretly offended: “Hello, we’re six, we can read – we’re not stupid kindergarteners.”
Once inside the library, we would head off into different directions, scattering to the winds. About 90 percent of us were looking for toys that might be hiding in the corners of the library. The rest were combing through old issues of Highlights magazines learning to make kites that would break apart in the wind and litter the front yard with paper and sticks and then your brother would say, “Gees, you’re an idiot.”
But I was different. I had taken to reading like a dog takes to tearing everything in your house apart. I even had reading preferences. I went to the school librarian, a slight woman named Mrs. Townsend and asked, “Do you have any books about God?” Her head nearly exploded from happiness.
I wasn’t interested in God, per se. But I did like books based on the biblical stories. I was big fan of the Christmas Story for instance because I knew how that ended, with toys. I also liked the story of Daniel and the lions where Daniel, who was a Christian, got locked up with lions and the lions refused to eat him. Though I later learned (through reading!) that the lions did eat a lot of Christians without compunction and perhaps it was less of a miracle and more that Daniel was lucky enough to have ended up in the lion’s den after the lions had had a big Christian supper.
Mrs. Townsend led to me to a shelf, patted me on the head and committed my name to memory. Little did I know that I had made a friend for life.
Throughout my school career, she led me to books that she thought I would like. Books like Wild Geese and Fahrenheit 451 that weren’t on the school syllabus but which stuck with me for years. Unfortunately, there weren’t many First Nation writers and so my native content was – white guy W.P. Kinsella’s series about First Nations people and white lady Jean Craighead’s tale Julie of the Wolves. Yikes. But this is what she had to work with as she built her little army of readers.
(Mrs. Townsend also let me sleep in the library at lunch times as per my lifelong obsession with naps.)
Librarians are warriors for the written word. In a world of YouTube, Netflix and video games, librarians still push on because books are necessary. Books are anti-capitalism because a poor person has the same access as a rich person thanks to public libraries. They are pro-travel because you can visit any nation in the world via their work (please choose Indigenous authors lest you ended up reading the collective bullshit of Namibia’s WP Kinsella). And they are the easiest way to time-travel. In one day, you can travel from Jane Austen’s 19th century England to the northern residential school where Augie Merasty received his “education” to Suzanne Collins post-apocalyptic Panem. And yes, I know that Panem does not exist but I sure do think about the Capital every time I see a person with lavender coloured hair.
Basically, a library can contain all of the human experience. And when it gets too big you can find someone to guide you through – the librarian.
Plus, they are the only person who will understand that shakiness you get when you’ve just finished a great book and need to find another one. Librarians are, fortunately, pro-dork.