There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
– Emily Dickinson
Libraries hold a special place in my heart. The public library in my hometown of Lebanon, Indiana was the place I spent most Saturday mornings as a child. My mom would drop me off on her way to do her grocery shopping, and by the time she returned, I’d have a stack of books piled high on the librarian’s desk, ready to bring home.
The children’s section, with its giant, 1970’s coloured floor pillows was where I first discovered the power of words. Sinking into the orange corduroy softness of my favourite pillow, I’d soon be transported to another place and time – a secret garden, the land of Oz, a boat race in Central Park (where I’d cheer with every page turn for a spunky mouse named Stuart.) Reading was nothing short of magic.
(And yes, it’s true…another kind of magic happened there for me as well. I had my first kiss in the reference section of the Lebanon Public Library at the tender age of twelve.) Just thinking of the Dewey Decimal classes still makes me blush.
In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting libraries near and far, sometimes as a guest speaker, but more often as a writer who can’t seem to stop chasing after stories from the past. While writing The Birth House I read through countless historical volumes and documents at libraries and archives throughout Nova Scotia. Then, while writing The Virgin Cure I took several trips to New York where I’d spend entire days at the New-York Historical Society Library, lost between the pages of 1870’s newspapers and guidebooks.
Now that 2012 has arrived, I find I’m chasing after a new tale that’s already got me rushing back to the stacks and to my desk. For the time being, my Canadian book tour is finished, and I’m happily falling back into the world of words. A million thanks in advance to all the librarians I’ll be asking for help as I chase this story down, one call number at a time.
Have you thanked a librarian lately?
Here’s a window into my world of libraries, research, and family ties, that might be of interest.
I was recently featured on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter with the wonderful Shelagh Rogers. It was lovely to chat with her and discuss the history and the research process behind The Virgin Cure. The interview is now online and includes big shout outs to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the New-York Historical Society Library! If you missed it on air, you can read more about my chat with Shelagh, and listen to the interview at CBC Radio.
“I like to think that she was a rebel. She cared very deeply about the social problems of the time, she cared about the huge gap that existed between the wealthy and the poor…She made a choice to go in a direction that by and large most women wouldn’t have even thought of taking on.” - Ami McKay on Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh, her great-great grandmother (and the inspiration behind The Virgin Cure.)