When I was sixteen, I started my first job at the Oceanside Public Library, a job that I, naturally, assumed would entail sitting at a desk, answering the occasional question, and spending the rest of my shift powering through as many books as I could. Little did I know what being a library page actually requires: pushing a heavy cart of books from shelf to shelf, feebly explaining to patrons that I was not a librarian and therefore unqualified to answer their research questions, and climbing into the dusty book-drop bins each evening before closing where I became increasingly paranoid that I’d reach for a book and instead pull out a spider or a snake or any other creature that might have found its way inside.
Maybe life as a library page wasn’t as glamorous as I’d hoped. Still, I felt at home at the public library where I’d spent countless hours ever since I could sign my own name on a library card. In the coming years, I again returned to libraries, working for three years at my university’s music library and spending so much time in the humanities library that a friend once told me that she suspected I’d been abandoned in the stacks as a kid and raised by the books.
I was, in a sense, raised by books; most writers are. And the library was where I learned to love reading. In the library, I read with abandon. I abandoned books I disliked. I dabbled in everything—mysteries and thrillers, romances and classics—picking books I’d never even think about reading today. Amidst the constant pressure I felt to succeed at school, I loved the library because it was a place where failure did not exist. There was only trying, only discovery, as I found, again and again, all the strange and marvelous books I never even knew I could love.
As an adult, I sometimes miss the open wonder with which I approached books as a child, before I had the wild idea that I might write a novel some day, before I cared about taste or reputation or craft or technique. I try to protect that sense of wonder that still flickers inside me and I’m grateful to my childhood public library for sparking my interest in books, for allowing me the freedom to nurture my curiosity, and helping me grow into a person who asks questions of the world.
Editor’s note: Thank you, Brit Bennett, for sharing your library love story with us! Readers, you can find Brit’s debut novel The Mothers in our catalog. It was one of the Top 10 Library Reads selections of October. Take a look at this New York Times piece, too: ‘The Mothers,’ a Debut Novel Is Already Causing a Stir.
Brit will be at Elliott Bay Book Co. on Tuesday, October 25, at 7 p.m.