Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Libraries Open New Doors

From Aimee Cirucci at Associated Content:
I don't know when I stopped reading, but I'll never forget when I started again. I was 25, a few years out of college and living in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
A voracious reader as a child and young adult, somewhere between a trying high school experience and a terrific college tenure, I simply stopped turning the pages. Hobbies, like loves, come and go, one minute you're scrap-booking with reckless abandon, the next you're wondering what you ever saw in all those stickers and stamps. Reading was like that for me. Sure, I hadn't stopped all together, I read just enough to get by in my classes, and later in my job, but reading for pleasure had gone the way of '80s hair bands.
People who have religious conversations often speak of an indescribable but powerful pull and that was the sensation I had when I felt the urge to read again. I was knee deep in the post college malaise of an office job that left me unfulfilled and a paycheck that just covered my newly acquired mortgage, doing everything expected of me, but painfully aware that something was missing.
Though I felt drawn to reading it wasn't until two collapsed lungs forced me to give up my long-distance running habit that I acted on the impulse. I had extra time on my hands and a yearning I was unable to quench with movies, television, friends, and Oprah-type self-improvement strategies. It was then that I discovered the Arlington, VA Library. Tentative at first, like a visitor returning to a place I used to know, I ordered a card over the Internet and slipped in one day after work to get my bearings. I left that day with ten or twelve books. An ex-pat from the library for so many years, when I returned it was as if I had never left. Sure the technology had changed - self check out machines, no more card catalogue of my youth - but the visceral experience had not, the smell of the books, the excitement and potential they presented, the feel of the spines running underneath my fingertips as I picked, pondered, and pulled them from here and there.
My old love returned with a vengeance. I found the excitement my office job denied me, I found friends when I was lonely, travel when I didn't have the money, and stories that utterly absorbed me. And the library itself became my hangout, it was my Cheers, my after work wind down place and the one spot that always relaxed me. I went even when I didn't need books. I went for the silence, the smiling faces, the stolen moments to sort out my life. And slowly I did. Idiscovered audio books and found they were the perfect anecdote for the congested capitol-area traffic. I began recommending books to friends and keeping a log of those I read every year. That first year I read fourteen books and felt utterly victorious! Who would guess that within two years I'd be reading an average of seventy?
I discovered favorite authors - Jennifer Weiner, Marian Keyes, Anne Lamott, Abigail Thomas - visited their websites and went to see them speak. I started to read publishing industry blogs, track new releases and unsurprisingly, to write myself.
It is no exaggeration to say that the simple act of stepping into the library changed my life. Eventually I quit that office job and felt strong enough to search for my own adventures. I moved from Arlington and joined the large and vibrant Philadelphia Free Public Library and subtly and seamlessly, like the plot of any good novel, my life came together. Before I knew it my profession and my passion were bedmates. The more I read, the more I wrote, and the more I saw my words in print. I felt most successful when I sold my first essay to a print anthology. Part of my payment included a free copy of the book. As you might imagine, I gave it away. For me the real thrill was checking it out of the library.

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