Read 650 - My Library
A library is so much more than books on a shelf, and many of the things we gain from libraries stay with us for a lifetime. Curated by Read650’s founder and editor, Edward McCann, the personal essays in this collection are in celebration of National Library Week.
In her essay, Krystia Basil reminisces about growing up in South India, where paid lending libraries and humble home libraries fed her frenzy for reading.
If I could, I would choose to live in a cocoon of books stacked ten high and twenty deep. If I could I would choose to die amongst books—words swirling around my soul skeptical of another heaven. All my life, libraries in all forms have been my true church, reading my true religion.
This love of reading is my mother's living legacy to me. Newly married and settling down in the sprawling metropolis of Madras, the first thing her husband discovered was that he had committed to a library visit once a week. These were libraries where you paid a small fee per book, per day. This expense would find a permanent place in the monthly budget. But riding his scooter to the library, with his young wife primly sitting pillion, impeccably dressed in a chiffon sari, her arm wrapped across his hammering, happy heart, the effort and the expense had been worth it.
Three kids later, the tradition continued. On day 1 of summer, my father knew to prepare for the hour-long journey to the biggest and best lending library in the city. We now had a family van, our trusted Maruti Suzuki. We carried with us two large jute bags with sturdy wooden handles. They would come back, filled to the brim with novels for my mother - Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clark jostling with Stephen King and John Grisham. For us kids, it was Archie and the gang, spunky Nancy Drew and those groovy Hardy Boys.
But it wasn't just the lending libraries of Madras that fed my reading frenzy. In the seaside town of Pondicherry, my cousins maintained a small library in their home, stacked with back issues of Reader's Digest as well as books on the adventures of adolescent girls in boarding schools like Saint Clare's, Malory Towers, and the alpine Chalet School. Oh, how I longed to be a boarder, sharing tuck boxes during covert midnight feasts.
When we visited the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore, my other cousins introduced me to Trixie Belden who solved mysteries around her hometown Sleepyside-on-Hudson. Trixie was klutzy and awkward, but smart and fearless. I related to her growing up. I still want to be her when I'm all grown up. And the series is absolutely why I live near the Hudson.
I came to the United States for my Master's degree at Miami University in the bucolic town of Oxford, Ohio. My first winter… Knocked. Me. Near. Dead. As undergrads stocked up for snowstorms with giant bags of pretzels and six-packs of beer, I shored up my spirit by heading to the cavernous school library and checking out armloads of books on every subject that had ever caught my imagination growing up. In my cozy off-campus room, I set up a third-hand bookshelf that I lovingly lined with my library books. I racked up substantial fines I had to pay before I could graduate, a small price for two years of literal literary immersion.
To date, my most delightful discovery about the US is not the jalapeno poppers from Arby's or the lemon-glazed doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. It is the very fact that public libraries exist. To be part of a community that prioritizes access to books the same as access to water - I do not take this for granted - especially now.
My parents taught me well, and I'm trying to do the same for my children. It is now my treasured tradition to visit the local library with my kids. After storytime, I read in a rocking chair while they lose themselves in the children's nook. We leave with far too many books to carry.