The Library Path by Eden Royce
I adore libraries.
Ever since I was a little girl libraries have held a fascination for me. It was partially the stacks and stacks of books and magazines taller than I was (and still am). Looking up at those towering shelves created a kind of awe in me. All that knowledge, all those ideas, all those fantastic worlds committed to ink and paper. That they were all available to me to read was mind-boggling. I considered it a personal challenge to read as many books as I could get my hands on.
As I looked up at the seemingly endless stacks, I knew being a writer must be an incredibly special. I wanted to be like the authors who had books on my local library’s shelves. Maybe … I could write a book – one that a little girl like me might pull to her and read and remember years later. And while it seemed like such a big, faraway dream at the time, the library and its contents were right there, at my fingertips.
My mother took me to the library every week and let me roam around the children’s section and select things to read while she picked out her own books. Slapping my very own library card with my name on it down on the counter, where I had to tiptoe to reach, was such a proud moment for me. It gave me control over something, and at such a young age it was empowering. I made the choice to take these exact books home to enjoy and spend time with.
Years later at age 15, I got my first paying job – and it was at my local library as a page. My main duties included collecting up the books and periodicals people left on tables or misshelved, and rubber stamping piles of individual cards with the next due date so the librarians could slip them into the pocket of books when patrons checked them out. I worried I wasn’t going to be able to resist finding books I loved while working.
Turns out I was right to be concerned.
In Charleston the summer days can sometimes get over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d walk from the bus stop after school and from home on Saturday mornings to that library through what felt like a wall of thick, soupy heat. When I opened the door, a rush of air-conditioner cool flooded me, bringing the scent of books and a relieved sigh to my lips.
While I loved my job, I got in trouble a lot.
I mean, a lot.
Too often while I was putting books into their rightful places, I found myself distracted from my duties. Sometimes it was the spine of a reference book that looked so worn and frayed that I wondered how many people had read and studied it. Other times it was the peeling clear tape holding on the sticker with Dewey Decimal system classification on the lower spine. I’d be drawn to that section of the library to search not only for the right place or the book in my hand, but to see what knowledge was there. Still others it was an attention-grabbing cover of a novel and after reading the jacket copy I rushed to look for other works by the same author. I even spent time comparing book covers for the same title, wondering which conveyed the story best.
Whatever the inspiration, I’d always find a book that called to me and I’d eagerly pull it from its rightful spot, and find an empty aisle that ran up to a wall. Then I’d sit on the floor and read the book I’d selected. While I was caught up on my rounds as I began reading, the time passed quickly around me without my notice. Before I knew it my boss, Mrs. Stepney, was standing over me. Upon looking up, I noticed more books were strewn across tables, magazines were tumbling off the chairs patrons had tossed them onto.
Mrs. Stepney was a tall, severe, no-nonsense woman and my sitting on the floor made it seem as though she was towering above me like a displeased empress.
I knew I’d find you here, she’d state.
Yes, ma’am. What else could I say? I was holding the evidence.
She’d then inform me that she wasn’t paying me to read and to go do my work, which I immediately did. But the same thing happened time and time again. I’d find an irresistible book and Mrs. Stepney would find me reading it, my back nestled up in a corner.
One day, she found me looking at a photography book with gorgeous full-color images of people from the African continent. She easily looked over my shoulder to see.
“Aren’t our people beautiful?” she asked.
I nodded. “But there aren’t a lot of books like this here.”
Mrs. Stepney shook her head. “No, there aren’t. We do our best to order books by Black and African writers but there aren’t as many published. I’d love to have this place full of our voices.”
“Then I’m going to write one,” I promised, remembering those first feelings I had when seeing the endless rows of books in the library for the first time. It still seemed like a dream, but maybe not such a faraway one anymore. “It’ll be set here in South Carolina. Then you can have it here for people to read.”
She smiled. For the first time I could remember. Ever. “I hope you do. I’ll be happy to order it for the library.” Right afterward the smile vanished, replaced by her stern face. “Now, back to work. You can read what you like on your break.”
I scurried to put my book of choice in the office with my things to check out before I left and returned to work, encouraged. I pushed the cart through the library, gathering up the wayward books and stopping to tidy shelves and displays with more spring in my step than before.
Libraries are a place where people congregate – book clubs, students, and homeless people seeking a respite from the weather. For me, they’ve always been a place of comfort, solace, and welcoming – even when you didn’t have money or anything else to give besides a desire to be within its walls.
I wanted to write a book that might call out to someone needing an escape. Or a person wanting some of that comfort and solace I got from libraries. I wanted to welcome readers into a world like the one I grew up in, where magic and history lived side by side with the here and now.
Mrs. Stepney didn’t live long enough to see my book published. But I think she would have given one of her rare smiles when she bought my book for her library and placed it on the shelf. Most of all though, I hope she knows I kept my promise.
Eden Royce is from Charleston, South Carolina, and is a member of the Gullah Geechee nation. Her short stories have appeared in various print and online publications, including Fiyah, and she is the recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds grant. Root Magic is her first book. Eden now lives in England with her husband and cat. You can find her online at www.edenroyce.com.
Debut author Eden Royce arrives with a joyous story of love, bravery, friendship, and family, filled to the brim with magic great and small.
It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. But the biggest change comes when Jez and her twin brother, Jay, turn eleven and their uncle tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork—African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations.
And it’s not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic Jez has inside to see her through.
ROOT MAGIC by Eden Royce
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