A Reading Story: The Stacks

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When I had exhausted every realistic fiction book in the children’s department of the library and had read every book from my grandparents and parents, I was ready for more books. I wandered across the hall at the central library and entered the Adult Section! Unfortunately, I was immediately stopped by a librarian who told me I was too young(at 12) to go in the adult section. This struck me as insane, but she did tell me that if my mother would write me a note, I would be allowed to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum of books.In those days, not only were children not allowed in the adult section of the library, but the children’s department had a firm hand rejecting anything they didn’t find suitable. This excluded books like Oz and many other popular series considered low-brow.

So I dutifully got a letter from my mother, handed it over and found that there was more than a room full of adult books. There was THE STACKS. They had thousands of fiction books(the nonfiction stacks were still served by couriers) and I knew I would never be able to read them all. And to add to my pleasures, stacks have a wonderful smell of old books and neglected writers.

Totally overwhelmed with the bounty before me, and being the systematic reader I was, I began with the A’s and for the next six years worked my way around the alphabet finding writers to love and ones to pass by. None of them had covers, since they were all rebound, so there were no cover blurbs. I just dug in. What a bounty.

Here’s to libraries who keep old books “just in case.”

Crazy Making 2017

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“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

I never thought I would have to live through the insanity now issuing daily from the White House. I thought things like refusing Jewish refugees and rounding up Japanese American citizens and putting them in concentration camps were agreed on by all Americans to have been wrong. I believed that we had learned from the mistakes we agreed we had made in earlier times. I actually had fallen into the seductive idea of progress.

Now as the Twitter King sits and like a dictator issues daily orders, it is difficult to believe that we have gone back to World War II ways of governing. I have tried to keep my sanity throughout these past 10 days, but it is very challenging.

I return to Adrienne Rich, the author of the quote which heads my home page. From her poem Transcendental Etude:

“But there come times—perhaps this is one of them –
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a deeper listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.”
I am determined to evict Donald from my head where he insists on living rent free. Instead I will cleave to the truth(which exists and doesn’t allow for “alternative facts”) and daily pray for the wisdom to know what action to take minute by minute. Today my action is to let my readers around the world know that a majority of Americans are heartsick about the current actions from the White House. They do not represent us. We do not see Muslims as a monolithic threat, but rather as a religion which descends, as does our Christianity, from Abraham.
Peace.

 

A Reading Story Chapter 5

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I spent the summer of 1958 on the East Coast, mainly with my grandparents in Western New York. My grandmother’s mother was from England and though my grandmother grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, her literature tastes were British. She introduced me to the stories of E. Nesbit, well worn copies of three of her books are pictured above.

This began my love affair with another genre of fiction–stories of groups of siblings left on their own having grand adventures. It turns out that there was quite an audience for those books and I found many such examples. Orphans, such as A Little Princess or A Secret Garden, were intriguing, but I really craved stories of four children, a mirror of the four in my family.

Later C.S. Lewis wrote his Narnia series, and my grandfather sent them all our way. Here another four children left at their great-uncle’s house(where ever are the parents in all those books I loved?) walk through a wardrobe into another dimension.  That idea of another world close by also appeared in my much loved Borrowers books, featuring a family living under the floor.

As you can tell, my middle school years were ones of reading book after book. There was no television at my grandparents. Even when I finally had a television at home, there was very little of interest to me. My passion remained, as it does today, in pages.

A Reading Story Chapter 4

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After I had exhausted every book I could get my hands on that mentioned a girl named Betsy, I read the whole series of Oz books. The earliest ones I read had belonged to my mother. This one, my favorite, was a Christmas present when I was 9. I usually received a book on Christmas, and it was generally my favorite present.

Ozma was a princess, long before Disney princesses ran rampant over the culture. She was brave and good and kind. Better yet, she was able to recognize creatures that had been turned into stone by the evil witch. She then could touch them and they would spring back to live. This was very encouraging to me and I read those sections over and again.The Oz books were the only pure fantasy I enjoyed. In general, I liked books about real children.

I am writing this series of entries in the hopes that my readers will think back about their own reading lives. I enjoy hearing about what people are currently reading, but I often wonder what they read as children.

Tomorrow we meet resourceful English children.

A Reading Story Chapter 3

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The books I began with in first and second grade all centered around little girls named Betsy. My nickname is Betsy, and it was a popular name in the late 1940’s. McCall’s magazine had a Betsy McCall paper doll each month. There was a Betsy-Wetsy doll, source of much teasing. But best of all there were two series, one beginning with B is For Betsy written by Carolyn Haywood.

The illustration is from that book and actually looks a great deal like me at age 7, with two long braids, saggy socks, and saddle shoes. I never had a purse, however. Better yet, at that time we had a black cocker spaniel named Cinder. The Betsy books didn’t have any more exciting plots than the Dick and Jane ones, but they had long and interesting sentences. And of course, the central character was named Betsy!

The other series with a central character named Betsy started with Betsy and Tacy, written by Maud Lovelace. The one I loved better was Betsy,Tacy and Tib when one of the girls gets diphtheria and has to be quarantined. While diphtheria had been conquered with a vaccine when I was young, polio, measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever were constant presences in elementary schools. The idea of being quarantined was very familiar, and I liked seeing how friends retained their connection through it.

There was no television in my home at that age, and reading took me outside of my own family and neighborhood and introduced me to wonderful other characters. Rather like keeping a blog!

 

 

Prayer for Our Nation In Transition

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Our priest, Fr. Thomas Gallagher OFM, wrote the following prayer for us to recite antiphonally on Sundays.(Each side of the congregation takes turns reading a section. Then we read the last two lines together.) I find it very soothing and inspiring, so with his permission I have copied it for you.

Blessed Are They

BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT:

     the marginalized,

     the sinner,

     the person who does not fit in,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN LOSSES:

     of love, of freedom, of dignity,

     of home–the refugee,

     of identity–the exile

for they will be comforted.

BLESSED ARE THE MEEK:

     the unseen, unappreciated worker,

     the physically, emotionally, spiritually abused,

     the one who is bullied,

for they will inherit the land.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS:

     the one who teaches through deeds of compassion,

     the one who stands in solidarity with the marginalized,

     the peaceful protester,

for they will be satisfied.

BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL:

     the one who opens doors, hearts, minds,

     the one who forgives,

     the person of hospitality,

for they will be shown mercy.

BLESSED ARE THE CLEAN OF HEART:

     the one who holds no grudges,

     the visionary,

     the one who welcomes the least one,

for they will see God.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS:

     those who strive to create a space for others to be at home,

     those with the vision to see from another perspective,

     those who accept forgiveness,

for they will be called children of God.

BLESSED ARE THOSE PERSECUTED FOR THE SAKE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS:

     those who remain faithful to love despite opposition,

     those who hold space for others to become themselves,

     those whose witness speaks truth to power,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH.

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

A Reading Story Chapter 2

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After suffering through the reading experience at Collins View School, we moved to a new neighborhood with a public school which resembled, because of its small size and homogeneous upper middle class student body, a private school. The kids were still struggling with reading, however, but this school assigned us all to small groups with cute names of birds. This, I suppose, was to protect us from the sting that would have come if they had called them: advanced, regular and slow. However, everyone knew which bird was which!

This might have been an improvement, but the little groups still read out of books found only in schools called “readers.” They should be called “make you never want to readers,” since they were excerpts from longer books and little moralistic stories. So I was able to read faster, but the material was still simplistic. And even in 3rd grade I knew it was almost as stupid as Dick and Jane.

Thank goodness my mother was a total devotee of the public library. She took us to the local bookmobile weekly and we could take as many books as we could carry. (I still check out books the length of my arm.) Sometimes we went DOWNTOWN to the huge library with a whole room just for children’s books. I immediately had the ambition of reading every book there.

What was I reading in those years? I will explore that tomorrow.