Life, for me, has been divided into colorful arrangements of books. My childhood is marked with books big and small – read-along and picture books. My adolescence navigated by books that chipped away at my teenage angst. They helped me look beyond myself. I ate up the words of authors S.E. Hinton, Madeleine L’Engle, Gary Paulsen, Louisa May Alcott, Harper Lee.
Books are testaments to life survived and more importantly lived. I remember the comfort books and the words inside offered me when coming to terms with the death of my father. L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light and Wrinkle in Time were my constant companions. The pages, ink, words compile together offer more than just mere book. They offer an undiscovered world. A new perspective. A chance to escape reality or crash into reality. They offer hope.
Since books played such an important role in helping me work through, grieve, and celebrate my dad, I figure they can help anyone in any situation. Sometimes I pick up a certain book as a gift and pass it to friends and family in hopes they are comforted and I use the book as a source of encouragement. Children’s literature and young adult books are a veritable resource for such gifts. I have given Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger as a graduation gift. Zusak gives us the story of ordinary becoming extraordinary. This is my go-to book for older teens. For times of trouble and heartache I share the gifts, words, hope of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Max Lucado’s You Are Special. For beginnings I give Oh, the Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss.
I also find that I can connect and build relationships with and through books – especially with my nephews. Last year, we had a contest going to see who could read the Harry Potter series the quickest. Those boys left me in the dust. I finished up nearly two months later and found myself marveling at the wonder of J.K. Rowling’s world and if I might someday receive an invitation to Hogwarts. When my nephews were very young, inspired by Captain Underpants, I dressed myself in superhero underwear over my clothing and proclaimed myself as Auntie Panties. Books help you create adventure and excitement. It may even make you seem a bit bizarre, but it makes such an impression. To this day, when my nephews want to grab my attention all they have to do is yell Auntie Panties at me. We cast spells like Harry, Hermione and Ron, we salute each other like the Katniss and others from District 12, and we are very concerned with the Cheese Touch. It is almost impossible to get rid of once you get it. I want to impart the whimsy, magic, comfort, and joy books give to me to others. Being silly with those boys is worth it.
The other children I know know by now that I am going to ask them what they are reading when I see them. We celebrate and talk about fictional characters as if they are real. If it’s a new series they have discovered, they put me onto those. For months, we all devoured The Hunger Games trilogy – dissecting characters, arguing strategy, sharing heartaches and triumphs. I want to hear about it all and I listen with open ears.
For the past ten years I have worked in both academic, private, and public libraries. I call myself a faux librarian and help customers and students – young and old – who I find are rather intimidated by the library itself and their librarians to become acquainted with the library setting and introduce them to the librarians. Librarians are such a rich resource of what is, what has, and what will be great reading materials. Libraries are a great way to learn, grow, and experience the world. Every day is an opportunity to help widen a student or customer’s eyes to what a library really has to offer.
My question for you is this: How will you pay it forward? Maybe it will be by sharing what you are reading and asking what others are reading. Maybe you will write book reviews and share on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. You share your reading delights with anyone and everyone. You give, donate, share books. And of course you just keep reading. You never know what lurks inside the closed covers of a book. And it’s waiting to be shared.
Kristen Keyser is a faux librarian at a community college in Oklahoma. She is a writer who spends her time reading, watching Wes Anderson films, and hanging with her family. Most people call her Keeks. She also has a blog, Keeks (www.theycallmekeeks.com), where she writes about life, sincerely but rather irreverently. You can find her on Twitter as @keeks4prez and on Goodreads as Keeks.