I want to see the world differently, I said. Show me what it’s like to live somewhere else, hang with people I never knew existed.
This was the wish, or maybe prayer, I whispered when I clutched a library book to my chest and cracked the spine for the first time. A desire to transport myself into the pages of a book and grab hold of a character’s hand overwhelmed me.
I needed to see a place other than the gravel road stretching from my house to Main Street. I wanted to find an escape from a chaotic home life. I yearned to see a world that stretched far beyond my own.
So I opened a book and let the words carry me to a place of hope.
Growing up, money was a hot button in my home. How we couldn’t afford basketball shoes, how gymnastics or music lessons were out of the question. And buying a new book? Go to the library, my father would say. They have walls of books.
The friendly librarians at my rural public library knew me by name. During summer months, I was the kid sitting on the steps, drumming a pencil on the cement while I waited for someone to show up for work and unlock the front doors. Wintry weekends, when snow piled on the sidewalk, I’d spend my days balled up in a corner chair with my nose in ten spines. The librarians never asked questions, like where the hell are your parents, kid? They just let me read until closing time.
My parents experienced periods of housing insecurity, when they could not afford to spend over half of their income on rent. The struggles sent us to live with relatives, and my home life grew more chaotic. Friends wanted to visit, but I was too embarrassed that my bedroom was a living room I shared with the rest of my family, so no and sorry rested on the tip of my tongue. I didn’t have my own bedroom but I had my library books–a place of refuge.
As I got older, my perspective changed. Books still had the power to transport me to places I’d never been, but I began to search for myself in the pages. I looked for the poor kids. The ones who couldn’t afford dresses for prom. Those working jobs to help their families keep the lights on. I scanned the pages, top to bottom, for an identifying characteristic I could connect with.
Books are universally meaningful, but when you have little in your own life, a book transports you out of your current situation and makes you feel like you’re surrounded by friends.
Books give you hope and hope inspires. Hope fuels change.