In 1953, the Great Neck Public Library is a 45-year-old two-story, Tudor-style building on Arrandale Avenue, a street name lyrical and magical to me. The building blends in with the stately homes on the street.
For a shy girl of 8 who thrives on order, the place is heaven. When I enter the library, there is the desk where I can check out books with my own library card. There is the wooden card catalog, which organizes the books according to subject, title or author using the Dewey decimal system. There are three-inch yellow pencils alongside squares of paper upon which you can note where to find the books you want. From the entrance, I can see both the first and second floors of the library, lined with bookshelves.
I must talk in a whisper, learning reverence for the written word. Dust jackets covered in plastic with a multitude of enticing images line the shelves. I walk the aisles feeling excitement at being surrounded by all these books. They beckon me to take them home and enter the lives of the characters.
Each book has a pocket into which a card is inserted. I sign my name, the librarian stamps the return date, and the book is mine for two weeks. From the look on the librarian’s face, I know this is a grave responsibility. So begins my passion for books and love for the written word.
In large part because of my high school English teacher Mrs. Rappaport, when I go to college in 1962 I major in English and minor in education. I want to be the next Mrs. Rappaport, who inspires her students to have a passion for the written word. I pursue a master’s in English. Somewhere among the tomes of Adelphi University’s archives is my thesis, typewritten and bound in brown leather with my name embossed in black on the spine.
For years after graduating, I teach English in junior high school, high school and college in hopes of imparting my passion to my students. I am never without a book by my side. Though the authors are strangers to me, when I am reading their books a relationship develops between us; we are together for a brief but precious time.
After earning an MBA, I leave teaching and enter the business world. In 2009, upon my retirement, a group of my colleagues, knowing how much I love to read, buy me a Kindle. I decide to give it a try.
It was difficult at first to give up the joy of opening a book for the first time. I soon learn the convenience of having a lightweight Kindle that I can put in my bag. I can underline passages I find compelling, and I can access the definition of words. When my eyes get tired, I can change the size of the font. I add the Audible app to my Kindle and find that closing my eyes and having someone read to me is comforting and intimate — especially if the author is the reader.
Yet, there are downsides. My trips to the library and bookstore are far less frequent. It's hard to remember the name of the book that I am reading because I don’t see its cover each time I pick up my Kindle.
Most of all, though, I have nothing to share with someone else. I can recommend a book on my Kindle, but I cannot physically loan it to a friend who shares my passion for the written word. And I don’t feel the same kinship with an author that I do when the actual book rests in my home — on a table, a chair or my bed — then on the shelves of my library, returned with my fingerprints on its pages to await the next reader.
I love my Kindle and will not give it up. But I’ll never forget that my passion for the written word began with the books that beckoned from the shelves at the Great Neck Public Library on Arrandale Avenue.
Nina Koppelman, Floral Park