Home. Health. Happiness.

Old Enough for Catcher in the Rye

woman-with-book.jpgYour hometown library:  where more than books may await the curious reader

If a pollster or market researcher were to collar me on the street and solicit my opinion of the greatest invention in human history, I would answer “the library.” At the library, one can sample from among the offerings as a hummingbird tests flowers. I choose selectively, yet somewhat wantonly: A paragraph tasted; a sonnet sipped. At the library, I’ve traveled the world for free.

Librarians are dear to me, too.

How do they know so much? Where do they find their patience? Is patience a course taught at librarian school? I remember, with fondness, the librarians in my hometown library. The librarians were so welcoming and kind. They liked readers, it seemed, and oh, how I liked to read!

The librarian in the Children's Section wore a cameo brooch at her throat, and smelled faintly of flowers. Behind her specs, her blue eyes sparkled with mischief. The long strands of her silver hair were always coming undone from her topknot and tumbling down. She was a bit messy, just like us. Perhaps that’s why we loved her.

She could assume so many voices during story-time reading circles. Her deep Billy Goat Gruff voice was so unlikely, coming from such a slender slip of a woman. We would howl with laughter. And no laughter was more musical than hers.

After I had read all the books that interested me in the Children’s Section, I applied, with rapidly beating heart, for permission to enter the upstairs realm ... the mysterious Adult Section.

The Adult Librarian gazed at me over her half-moon glasses. “How old are you?” she asked.

“Eleven,” I replied.

“You’re younger than the rules, you know. The rules say you’re to be at least 14.”

“Yes,” I replied meekly, “But I think I’m ready.”

“Well, we’ll have to give you a reading test to make sure,” she answered.

“A reading test?” I quavered. This was unexpected. She gave me a book to read. The title escapes me. Stricken with stage fright, I stumbled and stammered over the word “bottle.”

The Adult Librarian raised an eyebrow until I finally pried the word off my tongue, careful to pronounce each of the two Ts and not pronouncing it “boddel,” as I would have, had she not been listening with perked ears.

I finished the page without further mishap.

“Not bad; I guess you’ll do,” she said with a firm mouth, but now friendly eyes. I had passed her test. Then she again grew solemn. “You can take out four books at a time, and no more. And you’re to take good care of the books. No dog ears or coloring. No rips or chewing gum.”

Gum or coloring in books? Me? I would never desecrate a book.

She continued, “And if you want any books from under the counter, you’re to bring written permission from your parents.”

“What are under-the-counter-books?” I asked.

“That’s where we keep certain books for young adults and adults. Books like Catcher in the Rye, Peyton Place; books like that, books for older readers,” she said with a certain satisfaction, perhaps thinking that I, aged 11, wouldn’t be able to secure permission for those books.

I instantly vowed to secure permission for Catcher in the Rye and Peyton Place. Especially Peyton Place. The Adult Librarian had spit out the title the way you’d spit out a bug in your coffee. I must have Peyton Place.

Though I was successful in getting parental permission for Catcher in the Rye, I never read Peyton Place until years later. Catcher proved much the better choice. What a comforting discovery to find out there were other kids who were shy and confused—just like me.

Catcher in the Rye and Portnoy’s Complaint were two of the books that startled me the most during those early reading years. I had been lost in the classics until then, and had cried over the poor lost Dickens children laboring in their workhouses and eating horrid cold porridges.

To read in Portnoy’s Complaint of a boy who committed unspeakable acts upon the liver destined to be the family’s dinner that night was quite alarming to me. I never, ever, ate fried liver at our dinner table again, even though it was my mother who did the shopping and not my brother.

With few markers to commemorate coming of age, ascending the steep staircase to the Adult Section became my personal Rite of Passage. Standing on the edge of young womanhood, I was proud to access the Adult Section, replete with adult temptations from J.D. Salinger and Phillip Roth, available from under the counter—with proper permission, of course.

My love of libraries continues today. My library card still unlocks exotic voyages, knowledge and magic, but I’m hoping that when I’m in my 90s or beyond, I’ll finally get to see the truly adult books.

Within their pages, maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover the meaning of life I’ve been searching for all these years among the books, periodicals, and newspapers.

Until then, I try to live by words I read in a travel article. The author described a humble cottage she discovered in Provence, France. Painted over the cottage door were the words “paix sans envie.”

In English, the words translate into “peace without envy.” Three small perfect words. And come to think of it, I think these words are the key to unlocking the secret of a happy life.

And of course, this information was found at the library, on the shelf, in the periodicals section, where it had been waiting all along.

Happy reading to all.

© 2008 by Patricia Frank. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses »

  1. Dear MizPatti,

    Vibrant Village is a loving tribute to Beaufort people.
    I cannot imagine the huge effort you made to accomplish this.
    My most sincere best wishes for your success.

  2. Thanks, Betty, for your kind comments. It's very exciting to launch Vibrant Village and to have the participation of so many talented people. It takes a village...

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