When I was fifteen, I worked as a page in my town’s library. Like any typical teenager, I never thought the job would cultivate my deep love of books. All I saw was the opportunity to save up and buy a 10-speed bike that I drooled over every time I went pass the bike store.
But working at the library propelled me toward my love of reading—so did ogling Marlon Brando’s biceps.
My job as a page was to clean the books (yes, clean them), particularly those with plastic covers with a little soapy water. I also had to arrange the books in category order, which included alpha, and then numerical order, and basically keep the shelves neat and orderly for patrons.
Back then, libraries were different. There were rarely computers. The head librarian was the only one who had a DOS-word processor (yes, I’m really telling my age with this one) to look up books cataloged throughout the library.
Every book was cataloged and referenced in long wooden draws filled with typewritten index-size cards that displayed the name, reference number, and location of the book. I sometimes had to make sure the cards were in order.
It was a lowly job. Most of the time, I was in the back, sandwiched between rows and rows of dusty, seven-feet tall shelves, (which I also had to dust), and old books. But the experience served a deeper purpose for which I am forever thankful.
I worked after school Monday through Thursday. But as my unconscious love of books began to blossom, I found myself hanging around the library on my day off—reading.
I began to love the smell of the library, dusty, but with a Pledge-like bouquet and the sturdiness of wooden tables and chairs. (If you hit your knee against the table, you’d surely be reprimanded for yelling within the hallowed halls of silence.)
More importantly, I began to appreciate the smell of books. They smelled of knowledge, and escape—something beyond my ordinary life.
One day at work, I recall cleaning Marlon Brando’s biography, which contained dozens of pictures of him in various roles, “On the Waterfront, “The Wild Ones,” and the one that held me captive, “Streetcar Named Desire.”
Complete with a tight t-shirt, and cocky attitude, I fell in love with Stanley Kowalski and Brando’s biceps. I read his biography cover to cover. It’s no wonder I didn’t get fired considering I read the books, just as much as I cleaned them. But Kowalski was a sexy, flawed hero—one I wanted to read more about.
So, I did.
Tennessee Williams’ play “Streetcar Named Desire” was the first I read in its entirety. I remember checking it out of the library to finish at home. A 15-year old reading Tennessee William’s instead of “Teen Beat” magazine?
Unusual, right? I admit. I was a strange kid.
We all discover our love of books and writing in a unique way, perhaps through our parents, or a contest, or just the fact that we need an escape from the every day.
However you discovered your love of books and writing, take a moment to remember. It’s a good feeling, which I believe helps to strengthen our love of the written word, and hold on, even when things like rejections and revisions get in our way.