I listen to NPR a lot now as I drive to and from work. This week I was listening to All Things Considered and there was a segment which I thought was such a lovely personal tale of how Ralph Eubanks, now an author and Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress began his love of reading:
“The bookmobile began stopping at my house in the summer of 1965, one year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. As a boy, I took it for granted. A library on wheels was just part of the rural landscape. Isolated on a farm and oblivious to much of the turmoil of the civil rights movement, most Wednesdays I was finishing a book on the front steps when I heard the bookmobile’s tires rush over the gravel in my driveway. The civil rights movement remained distant, even though I knew that because I was black, I could not go to our local public library.
Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi resisted enforcing it. But when my mother, a school teacher, asked for the bookmobile to stop at our house in the summer of 1965, the librarian did not hesitate even though schools were still segregated. By simply following the law rather than ignoring it, the bookmobile transformed me into a lifelong reader and eventually a writer.”
It was wonderful listening to this. It reminded me of my own childhood introduction to reading and how much libraries and librarians helped cultivate my love of books. There weren’t many English books where I grew up. We had a small school library which I loved but was only open when school was open. There was a British Council Library which needed a membership (and most of those were reference books so I rarely went). And then there was the row of used booksellers that sold tattered old mass market paperbacks in what was essentially a bunch of tiny shacks on the side of the road with books packed in so high that there was no room for more than a tiny gap to walk between them. You could buy books there with a discount if you worked out a deal to return them. My mom would buy us stacks of series books – lots of Carolyn Keene mysteries which she bought along with a her Harlequin Presents. Those trips in a trishaw to get more books and then lying in bed reading them are a lovely part of my early memories of summer.
(Pictured here is a bookstore in India, but it’s not exactly the same thing).
What are your memories of learning to love reading?