When I was about t fifteen, my sister and I taught ourselves to ride the bus to get around. Staying home while on our summer break became too stifling and routine. For about a buck and a half, we were able to leave the comfort of our house and go on an adventure—that is if your idea of an adventure is riding the bus to the library.
I cannot tell you the endless hours my sister and I spent at the library, summer break after summer break. Often times I went alone since I’ve mastered the routine and my apprehension waned and turned to something like bravery. I remember heading out early from home, walking the half a mile or so to the bus stop. I always had my backpack with me. My backpack was like a reliable friend. It held and kept my money and house key safe and it uncomplainingly carried books in heaping stacks. Then there was my Walkman that was my constant companion. It too was a reliable friend. My Walkman helped to shut out the reality of my day when home life was not at its greatest.
At about this age, my sister and I held a summer job working for a distant relative. She was an elderly lady who lived by herself. We did menial tasks such as keeping some rooms dusted and we did a lot of gardening. This job enabled me to earn money. I saved up my hard-earned cash and when the fund was enough, I bought my first camera. I’ve always loved photography. I love how you can capture a moment or people unawares, or nature’s beauty but mostly I obsessively captured my nephew’s and niece as they were growing up. I daresay those images are embarrassing to them now since they are very much grown up (or at least they think they are) but I had a lot of fun taking them nonetheless.
Since I had a love for photography and my Panasonic camera is the result of that, I immersed myself in books that had to do with photography. Not books on techniques, lighting and ISO (goodness for the life of me, what is an ISO?), no, but once again the library provided me with tools I needed to look at works done by great photographers. I started with Richard Avedon’s work. Then I moved on to Alfred Eisenstaedt. He was my favorite. He worked for Life magazine as a photojournalist. He got to travel the world and brought the world back to us in black and white photographs. Then there was Dorothea Lange who was widely known for her work during the Great Depression. She captured harrowing images from that era. But I think if I was made into an image, I would want Ansel Adams to capture me. There is something about loneliness that he innately understands. Like it is a friend of his and poses for him on its own volition. He captures loneliness. I liked his work because it reflected how I felt about life. I wasn’t lonely, at fifteen what did I know of loneliness other than the isolation I created, I loved his work because I understood it and felt the emotion he was conveying.
It wasn’t just books on photography that I found myself devouring. Rows upon rows of hardbound biographies on the lives of celebrities brought life–to my life. I had clandestine dates with Laurence Olivier in the young adult section. I could not get enough of him. I loved him in ‘Wuthering Heights’ as Heathcliff, though he was a bit maniacal and scary. And please, do not get me started on Clark Gable! I read and swayed to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Rented every movie they made. Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorite actresses. I love her in ‘Love in the Afternoon’ opposite Gary Cooper. I read about Jean Harlow’s beginnings and untimely death and to Grace Kelly’s fairy tale story; to Marilyn Monroe’s fame and demise; to Katherine Hepburn. I have always thought that Katherine Hepburn was the epitome of womanhood. She was an actress with a quick tongue who wore pants on the big screen. She redefined women’s role in society. Of course I read about Vivien Leigh, once married to Laurence Olivier. And Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, did you know lived in Saratoga and attended Los Gatos High School in California? Amazing, isn’t it? And I was especially fond of books written by women. Even then as a teenager, my feminist views was at its cusp being fed on by books on Susan B. Anthony and other suffragists who fought for our right to be heard, our right to vote, to attend school; for equality and for our right to live as we see fit.
My sojourn to the library made me expectant to new discoveries I will uncover one shelf at a time. It gave my summer day’s meaning for being surrounded by books—lots and lots of books written by people who lived a long time ago, people who are still living and writing and smart people who had aplenty to say in the form of the written word. Writing is like trying to understand a different language, only does it make sense when words are put together to form a sentence. Writing is a landscape of thoughts where it then takes shape in the form of a story. Almost every day during my summer breaks, I was constantly surrounded by a company of books written in every genre. The smell of books made my nose twitch then and now for it is a perfume of knowledge and adventure. Some books I read then contained stories that rivaled my own trivialities.
Back then books were my friends, my partners in crime…they stilla are. It has always understood my solitude and never judged me for whatever state of mind I am in when I am reading the words that is soothing my soul. I think books find themselves lonely too. Like Ansel Adams photographs or Marilyn Monroe. Often times they are left un-borrowed, untouched collecting dust. I gave it its purpose when my hand slid it out of its upright position and fanned the pages as though by doing this, the contents will reveal itself to me.
Even now as an adult, I still find comfort when I am inside a library. Though our libraries now are much more advanced from when I was fifteen, I suppose the change is rather convenient. How books are now checked out, for the sake of efficiency and convenience has done away with human interaction. No longer are books with a packet inside where a piece of paper is slid in stamped with a date reminding you when your book is due. Now we have barcodes. Whether your local library’s been modernized or not, it is still a wonderful place to visit. I take my daughter to our local library once a week—sometimes twice. My daughter is a book lover. She reads because she loves it, when I was a teenager, I read because I needed to escape. I have not stopped reading nor will I ever stop. It is so much a part of me and it will always be my escape. July 11, 2010
We turned our living room into a library and thanks to my husband for all the hard work putting together the bookcases. My classics have not made its way to my library yet. I love being in this room; one wall is graced by my late mother-in-law’s paintings (not shown). Between Morgan and me, we have a collection of some 1,030 books (and growing).