When I was a little girl, my mother was the Librarian in our town. I loved to visit her after school at the romantic old library downtown, built in the 30's. I'd find a dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables in the stacks and curl up on the red velvet couch in front of the fireplace and read for hours. Those afternoons were a blessed escape from a childhood set in the midst of the godforsaken 1970's!
Later, I somehow discovered Anaïs Nin, and then, Erica Jong. Delta of Venus and Fear of Flying were harder to read in public, but I devoured them secretly, filled with delicious, guilty pleasure. At about this time I also read Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, as well as the usual trashy science fiction and historical romances bookish teenage girls always seem to find.
Reading has been my salvation—I've found some of my best teachers, healers and lovers in books. To disappear into the content of a story, any story, from fantasy to current events, makes me feel bigger than myself, connected to a community of human souls beyond my world.
When I'm troubled, I turn to books of poetry by the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, the musings on love of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, the compassionate detachment of Sogyal Rinpoche's Buddhist texts. While I can never fully assimilate all this wisdom (I often follow up a short read with a good cry and a cup of tea followed by hiding under the covers) I am constantly seeking more.
Perhaps it's not surprising then, that I would spend a few years working at the Henry Miller Library here in Big Sur, and consider it one of our community's transcendent places. Current Nympholibrarian Keely Richter reigns there now, in charge of archiving rare books. When I tell her of the secret union of Librarians she nods complicitly, hazel eyes laughing behind her glasses.
My latest book purchase? (From the Miller Library, of course.) The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Marion Meade. My favorite poem so far in this large tome of short stories, verse, and early New Yorker articles, is one which offers up these lines:
Yet this the need of woman, this her curse: / To range her little gifts, and give and give / Because the throb of giving's sweet to bear.
And it is.
Next on my winter reading list: MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me.