Tag Archives: #Libraries

So Many Books, So Little Time!

Shortly after my parents were married, their first argument was about reading. With an $18-a-week income as a sales clerk in Alburgh, Vermont, my father was spending up to $4 a week on magazines and books. My mother managed to curb his spending, but neither curbed their love for the written word.

My parents were first-generation Americans, with three out of four of my grandparents Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. Children of the Depression, economic reality squelched any hopes for education beyond high school. My parents compensated for their lack of opportunity with a legacy of literature: books, magazines, newspapers, and frequent trips to the libraries in the small towns in Vermont and upstate New York where they raised their four children.

As a result, my siblings and I grew up in a house full of books. Two rooms had floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with novels, second-hand encyclopedias, and American Heritage anthologies. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap as she read Golden Books to me. Birthdays and holidays always meant new books: The Wizard of Oz, Shirley Temple’s Story Book, and, in later years, the latest Nancy Drew mystery which my father would purchase in New York City on his business trips.

When the books in our house weren’t enough, I walked to the small but well-stocked library around the corner from our house in Keeseville. An early reader, I soon graduated from the six-foot bookshelf stuffed with picture books like The Cat in the Hat and Curious George and moved onto the twelve-foot high shelves with more challenging books. Pippi Longstocking and Alice in Wonderland were followed by Helen Keller’s autobiography and The Good Earth.

It was no surprise, then, that my four years of college focused on literature. I spent hours reading, discussing, and analyzing Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, and Hemingway. My literature courses were not work. They were an academic extension of those leisurely afternoons in the green lounge chair.

When I met Larry, one of the first qualities we found that we had in common was our interest in reading. His first gift to me was a copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose; my first gift to him was Thoreau’s Cape Cod.

As our parents did before us, Larry and I passed this legacy on to our own children. Bedtime was always a time for us to introduce them to our childhood friends—Francis the Badger, Amelia Bedelia, and Ramona the Brave—and meet new ones, including the Berenstein Bears, Corduroy, and Sylvester and his magic pebble. Books filled their shelves, and they got library cards as soon as they could write their own names. Adam became immersed in Tolkien and C. S. Lewis; Julie in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series and Jane Austen. Our conversations with our children still include discussions of books we are reading. Now that we are grandparents, our special times include reading to them–Ramona for our granddaughter; Go Dog Go and anything with trucks for our grandson–whether in person or on FaceTime.

Those conversations have also been with friends. For thirty-four years, I was a member of a monthly book club in Upstate New York. The members of the group changed over the years as people moved away or had other commitments. The format, however, remained the same. Taking turns meeting in each other’s homes, we spent the first half hour socializing in the living room. We then moved to the dining room, where we discussed future book recommendations and scheduling over beverages and too many desserts—at least one had to have chocolate— candy, nuts, and fruit. Then we began our discussion about the pre-determined book of the month. 

The fiction and non-fiction we read reflected the stages of our lives. Books on raising children gave way to those on balancing work and family to dealing with aging parents to our own retirements. We often chose best-selling and/or critically acclaimed fiction and non-fiction. With some help from discussion questions from Reading Group Guides, the group took time to weigh in on our opinion of the selection. We all loved Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto; we all struggled through Annie Proulx’s Shipping News

 Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love literally split the table: One side thought the author was an irresponsible witch; the other side admired her independence and courage. 

The means with which we read our selections also evolved over the years. The hardcover and paperback books were replaced with audio books and electronic readers. My personal favorite, a reflection of my aging eyes, was anything in large print. No matter what the selection or the means, the discussions were lively, the food was plentiful, and the pleasure of spending an evening with fellow readers was immeasurable. Once I retired, I doubled my pleasure by joining Clifton Park’s Hadassah Book Club.

Saying good-bye to my book clubs when I moved to Florida was one of my hardest tasks. Not surprisingly, I immediately joined a new book club. The women in Book Babes have helped make my transition to Florida easier, as I again enjoying the company of bright, articulate women who love to read and to discuss good literature. The pandemic has had its perks: thanks to Zoom, I have “rejoined” my Upstate New York Hadassah book club. Most recently, the group chose Fradel’s Story, a book I wrote with my mother. Having the chance to discuss questions I had written and getting feedback from my friends gave me–and hopefully them–so much pleasure!

Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” So hundreds, maybe thousands of books later, I continue to grow from the legacy that was given to me by my parents and that I have shared with my family and friends. So many books, so little time! But what a good time I am having!

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

This Bibliophile LOVES Libraries!!

Marilyn surrounded by one of her favorite things….books.

Recently, my husband Larry and I saw The Public. We knew little about the movie when we joined a sparsely filled ballroom in our community. By the time the end credits rolled, however, the two of us as well as others in the audience agreed it was one of the best movies of which we had never heard.

Written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez, the plot centered on a fictionalized account of an act of civil disobedience that turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold. Sweet, interesting, and well-acted, the movie had not garnered much praise or hype, but it gave a compassion view of the homeless. More importantly, it was Estevez’s love letter to public libraries. The camera often captured not only the beauty of the building but also the beauty of literature, with views of large posters of Thoreau and Frederick Douglas and Jane Austin prominently displayed. 

My own love of libraries started when I was five years old. When the books in our house weren’t enough, I walked to the small but well-stocked red brick building around the corner from our house in Keeseville. An early and voracious reader, I once did two trips to the library in one day to replace the picture books I had taken from the six foot shelf and finished in an hour. On my third trip, the librarian told me that I needed to read “bigger books” and walked me to the bookshelf that backed up to Cat in the Hat and Curious George. Embarrassed but intrigued,I soon fell in love with classics by such writers as E.B. White, Marguerite De Angeli, and Beverly Cleary. When I was thirteen, my father introduced me to Ed McBain and the 87th Precinct, and took out one a week, along with other popular fiction. That little brick building remains as one of my favorite places from my hometown.

By the time I went to college, the library became a source of research and studious solitude. Whether exploring the shelves or figuring out how to thread the microfiche into the machines, I used the library throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, conscientiously detailing my information on 3X5 index cards. In those days before computers, I also spent hours painstakingly typing in the source information into footnotes on the bottom of the white paper I had rolled into my Smith Corona.

When Larry and I purchased our first home in Clifton Park, I signed up for my first card in the library that was housed in an old schoolhouse provided in 1971 by the local school district for $1 a year. It looked and smelled like my old haunt in Keeseville. I was a little sad when the town built a newer but more institutional-like building a few miles away.

 As a child, I had been told that when it came to food, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. When it came to books, my eyes were bigger than my brain. With the new library’s increased size and volume, I started on a habit that I continue to this day, often taking out eight to ten items at a time. Fiction, non-fiction, DVD’s, tapes, magazines…whatever the library had to offer went into a huge tote bag I brought with me for that purpose. I also took care of Larry’s love for non-fiction, bringing him home books by David McCullough and Walter Issacson.

By that time, our children Adam and Julie were born, the tote bag also held children’s books. As a rite of passage, got their first library card as soon as they could sign their names. 

By the early eighties, I was debating whether to return to work or return to college for a master’s in Jewish Women’s Studies. After viewing the cost and the time, I decided to go the independent studies route. The wonderful librarians filled my requests for numerous books both on the shelves and available in area public and college libraries. I immersed myself in everything from Susan Brownmiller to Betty Friedan to Anzia Yezierska.When I finally returned to the classroom in 1986, I continued using resources from our local library to keep up with their ideas.

Sometimes, the library provided us withTMI—too much information. In high school, Julie did a research paper on Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, an English author most well known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. Uncovering Dodgson history, which included a complicated relationship with the child Alice Liddell, who served as a basis for his most famous character, as well as his photographs of half nude children. In retrospect, Carroll is viewed as “a man you wouldn’t want your kids to meet.” 

In 2006, Shenendehowa opened up a beautiful new library almost triple in size of its previous facility. I visited the library at least once a week, carting home bags of books, magazines, and dvd. As many other town residents, I attended authors’ lectures, concerts, and special events, including a Holocaust Remembrance. 

When we moved to Kissimmee in 2015, Larry and I signed up for a library card even before all our boxes were unpacked. The Osceola library branch on Doverplum reminds me of the one story structure that Clifton Park built in the 90’s. Yes, t is smaller, but the librarians and its expansive website keep me in between the covers of enough books for me to satisfy my book addiction for the next hundred years.

Meanwhile, empty nesters since 2001, Larry and I travel more frequently. On one trip to Jamaica, I packed seven books for the seven day stay. Larry (and Larry’s back) protested. Soon after, I found out that the library had an extensive ebook collection. I now was able to travel with more books than I could ever read in one week on a device weighing less than 8 ounces. Although I still love the feel of a real book, I am grateful I have an alternative for travel (and reading in bed with the lights off). And through the miracles of the internet, I am now able to manage my account electronically, including my holds, loans, renewals, and all e-book downloads.

Not that we never buy books. I am a firm believer in independent bookstores, and I force Larry into everyone I see. We hit four in four cities in a recent trip in Alaska, and I visit The Next Page, a wonderful community resource in Frisco, Colorado. Each time my need to support these stores often wins over the need to stop stuffing our bookshelves. 

Thankfully, the easy access to libraries throughout my life has helped our pocketbooks. According to according to a 2018 study by Pew Research, the average hardcover book retails for an average of $27.50. As my yearly goal is to read 100 books, I save $2750 a year using my library, and that doesn’t even include the price of magazines and DVDs!

In The Public, the Jeffery Wright character states, just before he joins the standoff with the homeless, “The public library is the last bastion of democracy that we have in this country!” The American Library Association agrees. “Libraries ensure people have access to information and lifelong learning regardless of age, education, ethnicity, gender, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers,” states their website.  “With over 17,000 library buildings and bookmobiles in communities, public libraries are essential community institutions that deliver the resources their communities need to thrive.” Libraries have helped me and my family thrive, and I, like the characters in The Public, will continue to support them. 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York. in the October 17, 2019, issue.