|The stacks in Wilson Library, University of North Carolina|
at Chapel Hill
When I feel afraid and overcome, I turn to books and stories.
I've written about them before -- the musty floors of old Wilson library at UNC in Chapel Hill where I spent hundreds of hours studying, wandering around, my fingers trailing the dusty spines of books forgotten. On the top floors you could find an empty carrel with a wooden desk scratched with the initials of long ago lovers, a peace sign, a curse word. I kissed my boyfriend there, sitting on his lap, our books and notebooks and pens scattered. Fifteen minutes before 11:00 at night, an ancient man, an Ichabod Crane with a head roamed the stacks, ringing a giant cowbell to warn us of closing. You rode creaky elevators down and then waited in line with other library rats (the less studious studied at the more open library or in the magnificent reading room where you could see and be seen) to have your backpack riffled through, the security measures of the last millenium. Then out onto the broad steps of the library, the campus spread out in front of you, the air velvet for the library behind you, the gracious oaks and lawns stretching forward into some impossibly benign future.
I can go there whenever I want -- to the carrels, to books, to metal shelves and scratched love notes, to kisses and love, leaves on trees and lazy days when my mind was busy with Auden and Li Po, with French verb conjugations and Nicaraguan history, figuring out whether he loved me or not and so on. That library, those stacks, that time in my head sustains me, sometimes, when I feel suffocated by the minutia of the life I live now. It is, in fact, books and my memory of them, how I felt as I read, how I lost myself in them, that sustains me in constancy. It is, in fact, books and the present, how I feel as I read, how I lose myself in them, that sustains me in constancy.
What are you reading?
"A God In Ruins" by Atkinson.ReplyDelete
Your prose is so beautiful.
I haven't read that! And thank you. I'm saving the new Atkinson that I bought in hardback for my trip to Whidbey Island.Delete
Missoula by Jon Krakauer. Now I'm reminiscing about the CSU library.ReplyDelete
I've heard really good things about that book, although I'm sure it'll freak me out.Delete
Oh lovely post. I'm reading Mrs. Dalloway side by side with The Hours.ReplyDelete
Sigh. What pleasure.Delete
Oh, what a joy, to read those books side by side! For another side-by-side read, try reading Odysses and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.Delete
A tall stack of Maxine Kumin and a couple of anthologies of essays by or on 20th century poets.ReplyDelete
That sounds delightful and probably "gird your loins" and roar-type stuff!Delete
"Penelope Fitzgerald - a life" by Hermione Lee. Penelope was an English writer who didn't start writing until she was sixty !ReplyDelete
What a lovely, lovely post you've written. Ours is beautiful here in Portland. Besides going there for books, I just walk up and down the quiet aisles amongst the books, it gives me great pleasure and makes me feel secure. I loved the way you described it, so beautiful and evocative.
And the picture, you found the perfect one. How I would love to be sitting in one of those quiet little alcoves with the light so close to the book. That's the way it should be, private.
I considered reading the Hermione Lee book -- I love her literary biographies. I read a Penelope Lively a while back and recently downloaded a couple of her novels to read later. She is certainly an inspiration, isn't she? And I loved what she said to an interviewer about the thousands of books and clutter that she has in her house -- she told him that she has no intention of getting rid, paring down or tidying up -- that her books were HER.Delete
No, no girding or roaring. Observing.ReplyDelete
I'm reading "The Shallows" by Nicholas Carr, which postulates that the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it harder to sustain extended concentration on reading, oh, a book, for example. (Ironic!)ReplyDelete
I can identify with this -- I loved the silence and relative emptiness of my college library at USF in Tampa. It used to stay open all night, and we could study into the early morning hours, or just read all the fun (and occasionally dirty) graffiti on the study carrels. Have you been back to the Wilson Library in recent years? I wonder what it looks like now. I've often wanted to return to my old college library and see how it's changed with the information age. Do they still have old editions of The Tampa Tribune on microfiche? Or are they all digitized now? I wonder.
I have not been back to UNC in 25 years! When I was a senior, though, a brand-spanking new library -- Davis -- opened, and I just never liked it as much.Delete
I just finished The Book Thief. I picked it up when my daughter put it down. I wondered why it was rejected and I think it was because she didn't expect the writing. I think she tried to read it quickly like she has the last couple of books. I loved it and cried piteously yesterday at 7am on the porch by myself before the kids woke up. I'd like to read it out loud to them, but Jack is only ten and it's a rough read. Did I mention I love children's books? For what feels like the same things I love about poetry. ok, enough! I just picked up Dead Man Walking from the library requested shelf. Is their anything better than picking up a book that has your name rubber banded to it? For FREE?ReplyDelete
I think my son Henry read The Book Thief, but I havent. And I look forward to hearing what you think of Prejean's book --Delete
"The Book Thief" is one of the best books I've ever read. In the top ten anyway.Delete
I have been thinking a lot about you and your Books and Bakes Salons, and how it is such a natural extension of who you are, what you love, your extraordinary talents, and how brilliant that you hit on the idea to do it, because it is so deeply YOU. This post is the evidence of that. It is so beautiful written, so evocative, the yearning slips inside me, so exactly have you described the experience. You might be the reincarnation of Virginia Woolf. Maybe Sophie came to you in this life to ensure that you would never fill your pockets with stones. Your hunger for books, your writing, inspires, ignites. Sometimes, thinking about you, your life, your rage and sorrow and abiding love, I cannot even hold the entirety of it in a single thought. Sometimes, as in reading this post, I am just overcome with wonder at how you do it, and keep doing it. I am glad to know you, writer baker mother woman, and call you friend.ReplyDelete
Thank you for these kind words, Angella. I am so grateful for you and this community that provides constant support and inspiration.Delete
I just finished "Not that kind of Girl," by Lena Dunham. My son has OCD (as does Lena Dunham), so this book shed some more light on the situation.ReplyDelete
Jen in San Jose
Thanks, Jen! I'm not a big fan of Lena Dunham, but I've heard good things about her book. I'm glad there was something to relate to in it. I'm familiar with how frustrating and even devastating OCD can be as a good friend's son has struggeled mightily with it for years.Delete
What a superlative post! And more proof that you so deserve those 3 weeks at Hedgebrook.ReplyDelete
Recently finished The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer which I really enjoyed.
Sounds very intense, Sound of the Silent! I've read a bit of Singer but not enough to have an opinion!Delete
"That library, those stacks, that time in my head sustains me, sometimes, when I feel suffocated by the minutia of the life I live now. "ReplyDelete
I buy poetry books during difficult times. And then I keep them near my bed and look at them, and think of whomever I associated the book with. But after 20 years of doing this I've only just started to read them, in part thanks to you.
I had been intimidated by poetry; I had too many internal rules about reading a poem. I felt a pressure to give each poem its due, to sit with it and understand it more than superficially, remember it distinctly before moving on to the next. So I certainly wouldn't have read a whole book of poetry, for the poems would blur together, and that just wouldn't do! But I've been reading your blog for a couple years and I've admired how reading poetry is a natural part of your life, the way cooking is, for example, or meeting someone for coffee.
I have finally granted myself the internal permission to read a poem without having to build an individual pedestal for it :-) Just like every meal doesn't have to be memorable, sometimes a poem can be the beans and rice that tide us over until tomorrow.
Last year I went to the book store on my way home from the vet's office, with the body of my sweet dog Ellie still in the trunk. Her kidneys had failed, and she died young. I bought Mary Oliver's "Dog Songs" and have been reading it periodically over the last month. The poems blend together the way memories of my pets do- one reminds me of another. Your description of taking refuge in (memories of) the stacks reminded me of the comfort from I'm taking from "Dog Songs" and from the bittersweet memories it evokes.
Thank you so much rebeccalyr for this beautiful comment. I think it's a common "myth," even, that poetry is inaccessible to typical readers. While some poetry is inscrutable (and I'd say that was those poets' probable intention, anyway), most just calls for an open mind and heart. I love how you've described the reading of poetry and how sometimes it can be "the beans and rice that tide us over until tomorrow." I am sorry, too, to hear of the beloved loss of your dog. I highly recommend a collection of essays edited by a writing mentor of mine Barbara Abercrombie. The book is called "Cherished." I think you'd like it.Delete
Speaking of poems and pedestals, I absolutely love "As a Hammer Speaks to a Nail". What a perfect reinforcement for those times when my voice falls.ReplyDelete
Yes. Hirshfield read that one aloud the night I heard her this week. Those last two lines are killer.Delete
I fell in love at a library where I worked when my son was born... The Health Sciences Library at HCMC in Mpls. Lust, worry, tears, fear, joy were the feelings when I worked among the stacks. Ahhhh..... Libraries still make me feel hopeful and at peace. Just finished A Place Where the Sea Remembers by Sandra Benitez.ReplyDelete
I think it's only a certain "type" of person that associates libraries and love, don't you? My love of reading and libraries and Wilson library in particular are all bound up with one of my greatest love affairs. Thanks for your comment Shelly! I haven't heard of the Benitez book, but I love the title!Delete
Reading The Book of Salt (your recommendation--thank you) and listening to You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt. Your writing is delicious.ReplyDelete
We read "The Book of Salt" in my Books & Bakes group. We were all unanimous in our ambivalence for it. We wished that there was more Gertrude and Alice! And thank you for your kind comment. I love when you visit here.Delete
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.ReplyDelete
I just finished "The Nightingale" which was excellent. Now I'm reading "A God In Ruins". I wasn't enjoying much until I read the end and now it makes more sense. I often read the endings before I finish the book.ReplyDelete
Wish I could make your salon. Enjoy!
That's wild that you read THE ENDING sometimes. I could never do that! I admit to skimming through some books if I find them dull or want to get to "good" parts, but I'd as soon give up than skip to the ending!Delete
I also enjoyed the podcast. You are so easy to listen to; articulate and informative yet easygoing and unpretentious. And you handled that embarrassing "tincture" moment so graciously. Please don't follow that trend you guys discussed: shutting down blogs.ReplyDelete
Thank you! And I doubt I'd ever shut down my blog. I find the community way too essential to both my creative and personal life!Delete
I am finally reading All the Light We Cannot See, your recommendation months ago. Also, I stumbled into a thriller series in which the central figure is a chef and restaurant owner who solves crimes and mysteries...So far, these are okay because they are not entirely formula driven and some of the characters have been interesting.ReplyDelete
I've heard of those chef mysteries. I'm so NOT a mystery reader, though -- I don't think I've read one since Agatha Christie back in high school!Delete