When I was a child, one of the most traumatic things to ever happen to me was when I was falsely accused of not returning a library book. The truth was, I had never taken that particular book out in the first place; this was back in the pleistocene age of physical library sign-out cards, and the wrong sign-out card had been placed inside the book I had actually taken out. As a fairly well-behaved child, I had never been in trouble at school before, and the trouble I was most afraid of was with the librarian. If she disliked me, how would I get my books?
As a child I devoured books. When I first read Roald Dahl’s Matilda I realized I was not alone in finding more comfort in books than in people; every week I would ask the school librarian where the newest books were, taking out my weekly maximum at a time. I was reading far above my grade level as early as six, reading The Hobbit when I was eight and Stephen King when I was ten. Lacking real life companions and only ever having at most two friends come to my birthday parties, I found friendship in the literary female heroines whose lives I envied. I’d look for as many excuses as I could to be spared the pains of outdoor recess and physical exercise to stay inside and help in the library. On days where I failed to do so, and since I was never chosen or good enough for recess soccer teams, I would swing around the goal post, avoiding the balls aimed at my head, dreaming of the adventures of my heroes and imagining I was anywhere but here.
My love of reading extended past childhood. In junior high and high school I was introduced to the classics; to Homer, to Shakespeare, to Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald, to Ondaatje, to Atwood. A man I will never forget, my twelfth grade English teacher, introduced me to Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, wherein I found myself in my teenage angst identifying more with Holden Caulfield than with my more popular peers.
Against all career planning advice, I chose to study English in university so I could continue to fuel my addiction to fiction. I would read mountains of books a semester, read until I couldn’t see straight and the night was bordering the morning. And now, I read (and edit) for a living (though I can’t say scientific reports are as fascinating as Bill Bryson explaining science).
Had I not been given access to a wonderful library, had the books available to me been limited and falling apart, had I not been able to seize more books than I could carry at any one given time, what would my life be now? I would have had to become better at soccer, for one.
Bookstravaganza to me is a chance where I get to relive my childhood and my university experience; unfortunately in my adult life I might read one new book every few months, so it’s a time where I get to competitively tackle my never-ending reading list. But childhood can be a lonely time without books, so it is important to remember that “all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” (Fitzgerald, obviously.) So for all the mini-Matildas and Holden Caulfields in this country, please consider making even a small donation ($12 = one new book!) to support Canadian school libraries!