was incredibly plump as a child. I tipped the scales at over 100 pounds when I was nine, and I’ve been the same weight I am now since grade seven. That’s not to say I was obese or immobile: I have always been happy, active, and a permanent bookworm. I’ve just long preferred reading to competitive sports.
Since we were old enough to go out at night alone, my best friend and I had a longstanding Monday night date. This was the night when the library was open late, where we would go out and borrow huge stacks of paperbacks we would attempt to devour before returning them the following week. Growing up our library had a Crayola purple carpet, a typical hushed quiet, the delicious slightly mildewy bookish smell and was only slightly larger than a generous family ranch home.
Outside The Library, August 2011.
The Library is always The Library when we are small, as it doesn’t become ours until much later when we realize these edifices are city, let alone nation-wide. The Library was divided broadly into quadrants; a gradient of seriousness–staff sorting area in the back, followed by a community meeting room, adult non-fiction, adult fiction, and the children’s section tucked away in the final corner. Later, I realized this was probably because of the noise and bustle of the children’s section, but I think it was also a protection mechanism, to corral us all in the back corner away from the door and to create the longest lost path to the outside world. It also gave the rest of the library the strange effect of appearing dim and monochrome, with the children’s section at the end appearing bright and hyper-coloured; this could also just be bleary childhood memories.
The adult non-fiction section had long, wide wooden tables with many people quietly pouring over various consultation texts, and wide, leather armchairs with tiny metal studs holding the leather and padding in place. Adults filled the seats, reading newspapers from all over the world, held together in long wooden rods. Many of the adults wore glasses, which I found very serious and intimidating (we were a family of severely un-corrected vision). On the occasions when there was some rare emergency that involved tracking down my mother in this section, or when we trekked through the area en route to story-time (particularly popular ones and puppet shows were held in the back meeting room), my mother would always rigorously coach us in adult behaviour and the imperative silences it required. Then, petrified of being asked to leave, we would remain stone-quiet until we were through, even miming our actions if needed. Getting kicked out of the library would be The Worst.
When I was first learning about the different sections of the library, my mom explained where she would be, and where I could stay. Since the children’s section was tucked away farthest from the door, there was no worry of any of us escaping while our adults perused. My mom would normally hang out in adult-fiction right next door anyway. Those books were written in “adult,” i.e., no pictures and big words. My mom described adult non-fiction as “books written about the real world”-in my hyperactive mind I actually imagined them as living breathing things, that they were a realtime version of whatever was happening outside, self-updating Encyclopedia Brittanicas and microfiche. A place where you could observe the wonders of Reality through a page, hovering delicately above another continent or a civil war, with nothing but Adult Reality grounding you back from falling all the way in. A very dangerous section indeed. This Real World section was also comfortably located as far away as possible from the children’s section, providing us with another layer of protection.
Back in kid’s land standardized cut-outs of storybook characters and kid-things covered the upper-halves of the walls. A half-dozen rickety black spinning carousels contained the young adult section, with one, larger non-spinny one for fantasy and sci-fi. After spending a few hours leafing over the carousels filled with paperbacks, grazing through the stacks and scrupulously reading excerpts from dog-eared novels, we arrived at our agonized-over decisions and checked out close to whatever our limit would allow before carting them off to our local coffee shop, where we would order italian sodas, hot chocolate or tea and stay as long as the baristas would allow.
Second Cup painting by Sylvia Simpson.
Younger versions of ourselves, or nights when we didn’t have quite enough for a drink we’d read up in her attic or under the dining room (which had a massive wall of books and french doors and kind of emulated a reading room). At my house we would read on my porch, sitting on an old wooden chest that stored salt for the winter and gardening tools, and drinking pots of herbal tea from my mom’s oversized yellow pot.
Somewhere along the way I started running out of material. Or not so much running out of material, but my interest in the kid’s section began to drop off. I had read most of the Young Classics (Bridge to Terabithia, Anne of Green Gables), most of the young series (yes, including Babysitter’s Club and the My Teacher is an Alien series). Gordon Korman drew me into the “young adults” section, where The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy caught my eye. Despite being one of those archaic UK printings in a typeface that made my headspin, it made me laugh out loud and officially became the first book I ever read where characters had sex. Mind you, in the Hitch-hiker’s guide, this consists of the two main protagonists floating up into the clouds, it was still the first allusion to sex as a part of healthy, normal adult relationships. Yes, I realize you could analyze that statement in relation to Douglas Adams and normalcy, but seeing as it’s recently been made into a major motion film, I feel like I should get a little bit less flak over it.
It was during this section of time, now nearly unleashed to the adult world (the rack of “Teen Fiction” was quite literally the border, a barricade against Adult Fiction), that I began seeking external guidance in my literary quest. One of my old karate Sensei’s, a recently employed university robotics grad, who was back visiting our dojo from Silicon Valley instantly recommended Microserfs. Unsure about what I was getting into I flew through the novel. Albeit stumbling over the sections with intricately detailed descriptions of Java and C++, I laughed hysterically at a good portion of the others. The novel was about people, and all our awkwardness. The world he wrote about was one that I always imagined existed, if we all just acted out on our eccentricities. One of my favourite sections described one of the most socially awkward employees locking himself in his office. Throughout the course of the rest of the book, he survives on different flat foods the rest of the office slides to him under the door: kraft singles, unrolled fruit-roll-ups, saltine soda crackers and pop tarts. It’s brilliant. To this day I cannot look at a saltine without wondering if it would clear a door jam.
And this is how I was introduced to Mr. Doug Coupland.