The card you gave me says “All Yours.” It is on my keychain and I carry it with me everywhere I go. I have another keychain right next to it, a small plastic square, a white background, a colorful, messy pile of books. It is from your branch in Washington DC, the big one. I found it after my 93 year old Gran died while sorting her costume jewelry with a raucous group of family members. We dug through her treasures with reverence, a rhinestone studded cat pin, whimsy earrings shaped like fruit, two small beaded fringe purses, clusters of faux pearls. So. Many. Rosaries. The keychain was at the bottom of a jewelry box, I picked it up and smiled, reminiscing on the only time I visited your branch in DC. I had just one day and chose to use my time to visit your enormous collection of books. The biggest in the world. I convinced my husband to apply for a research permit so we’d be allowed to walk among the shelves. I had no research purpose, just flat out lied so I could enter. I longed to be surrounded by the magic of books in the place that I once believed was the birthplace of every book ever. The bottom of the keychain has a quote, “I cannot live without books.” I carry it to be reminded of my Gran, to be reminded that a love of books is written in my DNA.
My love for you began when I was quite small. My mom would give me endless, uninterrupted time in the children’s section of your East Baton Rouge Parish branch. No rushing, just space in the quiet hum, the smell of books mingled with the warm ink of the old copy machine. I would search the shelves for Dear Dragon and wouldn’t leave until I had one of every color. As I grew I learned to use your card catalog, pulling out drawers longer than my arm to flip through softly worn cards with typewritten text, discovering secret directions to your shelves holding things I wanted to know. Your books called to me. Books on dance, Broadway, gymnastics were mine for the taking. Nancy Drew or Amelia Bedila, biographies on Jackie Joyner Coursey or Nadia Comaneche could all be found. I could hardly believe you’d let me take them home with me. I’ve never gotten over your decadence, your abundance, your generosity. All Yours. Anything you want to know is available here, all that interests or inspires you, discover it and take it with you.
The bright orange, children’s card you gave me became cracked in half before you promoted me to the light blue card for young adults. Do you remember that when I got my blue card I was old enough to ride my bike or walk to you by myself? It was under a mile from Riverlon Ave. to your East Baton Rouge Parish Branch, 0.8 miles to be precise. To live so close to you, something I both loved and needed, was a tremendous gift. It is perhaps a minor miracle and also totally predictable that I still live so close to you. It is under a mile from Broadway St. to the College Branch, 0.8 miles to be precise. The gift of your close proximity became a lifeline for me, especially when I was a new mom, closely followed by a mom transitioning to having two kids, a toddler plus an infant. I needed you. I needed your music circles and your fish tank to visit. I needed your bead mazes and bins of board books. I needed your phone in the frog booth that reads a story aloud. I needed to give my insatiably curious kids endless, uninterrupted time in your quiet hum, to allow them to take as much as they wanted from you. All yours. All that interests or inspires you, discover it and take it with you.
I cannot live without books. I depend on them for survival. Books were my Covid toilet paper, the thing I hoarded and lived in fear of not having enough for myself and for my kids. When it was rumored that schools were going to close for a second time in the fall of 2020 my panic carried me straight to you. I filled six bags with your kids’ books, the plastic handles cutting into my hands with the weight of all I could possibly carry. I believed the abundance of books would save me from drowning in the stress of covid parenting my spirited six and four-year-olds. I would stash bags of your books in random spots around our house like emergency kits. When my kids were climbing the walls and I was ready to climb out of my skin I would triumphantly pull out a stack of fresh ones. Sometimes it worked and it was glorious.
All yours. Discover and take it with you. When I unexpectedly and suddenly left my job in May of 2020 I didn’t know I was wading into two-plus years not working outside of the home. I was drifting and lost, a most unwelcome identity crisis, the small stretches of time I had for myself were filled with overwhelm and decision paralysis. You became a tether and a safe place, a source of inspiration. Your books on growing vegetables and flowers helped me join a community garden with my family. Your books on racial justice, white supremacy and the brokenness of public education helped me process the world. Your books on embodiment and somatic healing led me back to my home in my body. Did you know you taught me to paint? I bet you saw me renew “Everyday Watercolor” over a dozen times. The voices you held spoke to me in so many ways. Ann Patchett made me cry, Cole Arthur Riley made me reverent, Brandi Carlile made me hopeful, Katherine May helped me survive winter, Robin Wall Kimmer helped ground me in nature, Amanda Gorman lifted me up. Your books embraced me, held me and reminded me when I forgot how to live my life. I cannot live without books.
My love for you has steadily grown into a committed relationship. We’ve settled into a familiar rhythm. I spend time with you every day even if just a few moments I steal to read on your Libby app on my phone, hiding at the top of the basement stairs. You forgive me for my shortcomings when I take liberties with your lack of late fees and keep books for way too long. We communicate so well, I add things to my Holds list, and you graciously tell me when books are ready for me. I pause with gratitude when I search your shelf for my treasures, deeply thankful for the hands of your many helpers who were the ones to find, sort and carry my books. All I had to do was show up. You are my reliable, faithful friend, always there for me, eager to help and inspire. Still generous, still abundant after all these years. All yours. Anything you want to know is available here, all that interests or inspires you, discover it and take it with you.
Marlin Bruns is an Indy Maven contributor who is a sucker for a good story, worships any space where stories live and cannot live without books. She can’t seem to help creating and bringing new things to life while also nudging her two wild and free kids to do the same.
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