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Opinion

How I learned to love the library

The closest I came to wanting to read was “The Big Green Book” by Robert Graves, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, a gift from my aunt.

Stack of philosophy books at East Meadow Library

Stack of philosophy books at East Meadow Library on Sept. 4, 2003. Photo Credit: / Julia Xanthos

As a child, I had library phobia. I associated going to the library with doing research for a school project or a book report. I defined reading as work, and books came from the library, so going to the library for fun was out of my realm of thinking.

As hard as they tried, my parents could not get me interested in reading. They purchased a few of the Hardy Boys series. The books collected dust.

The closest I came to wanting to read was “The Big Green Book” by Robert Graves, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, a gift from my aunt. Its lead character, a boy of about 8, my age, discovered a book of magic spells. I was intrigued.

Spells were not in the book, but I drew an imaginary magic circle with a long stick in my bedroom, stood inside the circle, took three deep breaths and made up my own spell. I never became invisible, which was my goal. This was my favorite book. I read it again and again. Certainly no need to go to the library.

Eventually, I started reading novels in my 20s. To avoid going to the library, which was only seven blocks from my Brooklyn home, I joined the various book clubs. I didn’t mind having to buy a book a month as long as I didn’t have to go to the library.

My library phobia was cured 23 years ago when my family moved to Long Island. The East Meadow Public Library, a two-block walk from our home, became a regular destination for me and my family. My children were introduced to books through the children’s section with free programs that even my wife and I enjoyed. My children made friends, and my wife and I made friends with the parents.

I was as eager as my children were to get their East Meadow library cards.

My library card is faded, the edges are ragged and I renew my membership time and time again. I have given up mail-order books, and when I go to a store that sells books, I snap pictures of the book jackets that pique my interest and put the book on reserve at the library.

While I can’t always judge a book by its cover, the library has shelves of books waiting for me to choose. I can even reread a book from years ago, thanks to the library. I share reading suggestions with family members and co-workers.

I don’t have a favorite genre. I enjoy horror, a legal thriller or a good mystery and a book that makes me cry. Some of my recent favorites have been “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, “Different Seasons” by Stephen King, and “Defending Jacob” by William Landay. I have read autobiographies of people I worked with and found them to be accurate descriptions of the events I witnessed.

For the past seven years, the East Meadow library has run a summer reading club. Raffles and guest authors are featured at a kickoff celebration in June and at the concluding event in August (nobody leaves without at least a tote bag and book). One summer I read the most books in my family, maybe as many as 17.

As for “The Big Green Book,” I shared my copy with my children when they were younger. The magic spells still didn’t work.

Reader Howard Lev lives in East Meadow.

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