An "unofficial" Booking Through Thursday question --
Tell us about the person who gave you a book that became important in your life.
My very first job was at the library where my mom worked, at a small Baptist seminary at the base of the foothills. I was very young -- I don't know how it was managed, but I guess being a small private school has its advantages! -- and my job was simply to paste in pockets and bookplates, so neither onerous nor critical, requiring only an eye for straight lines and the ability to sit quietly for a few hours, both of which I was pretty good at. I would find a cart of books to process when I arrived, already cataloged and any dust jackets removed, and I pasted a plate at the upper left of the inside cover -- sometimes it had a note of thanks to a donor typed in -- and a pocket, probably with a date-due slip as well. I don't remember property-stamping, but presumably that was also part of it. Sometimes if there was something especially valuable in the dust-jacket blurb, it would have been carefully cut out and included for me to paste inside the end-papers at the back. I had a stool to sit on at one end of a longish narrow workroom, which was filled on two sides by windows looking out over a little valley and the foothills to the north (very rural-looking, though it was not), so that the afternoons were rarely dull, even if the books themselves were a bit bland and scholarly!
The library was in a curious sort of building that had the feeling that it might in an earlier life have been a house -- I don't remember the outside at all, but once inside you were in a smallish room with a desk where the students could check out their books. A pair of short hallways led from this room at right angles to each other -- off of the right-hand one was my mom's office, where she did most of the secretarial work, as well as ordering and receiving all of the books. (A favorite family story was that when very young my little sister was asked what her mommy did, and she said brightly, "My mommy works at the cemetery opening boxes!") Across from this office was a small, narrow, and windowless room with the card catalog, and further down the hallway, through a pair of glass-paned French doors, was the reading room, with tables in the middle and bookshelves around the walls. Along the north hallway was a series of small rooms which is where the rest of the book stacks were -- I always thought this a very appealing way of housing a library, so I suppose it's no wonder that my house now has multiple bookcases in every room and even in the hallway! I guess I didn't take advantage of the staff discount as much here as I did in later library jobs, but I remember very distinctly that the first book I ever bought with money I had earned myself was during this time, Lucile Morrison's The Lost Queen of Egypt -- this was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with ancient Egypt, and I have to say that though Morrison's scholarship may be quite out-of-date now and her writing perhaps a little old-fashioned, it was wonderfully atmospheric and I still remember entire scenes quite vividly, even though I haven't read the book for years! (My copy, as it happens, was missing the frontispiece, which I did not realize until some years later, but I hardly noticed the lack of it, contented perhaps with the more authentic-looking line drawings in the text!)
Most of the books at the seminary library, of course, were not anything a child would be interested in, but I remember that my mom borrowed for me one day a copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and of course I was hooked. A great story -- adventure, magic wardrobes, talking animals, and all with a dry humor that clearly appealed to my nascent Anglophilia. (Am I an Anglophile because I am by nature "English" or am I more "English" because I have for so long been an Anglophile? Clearly, the latter has had some bearing on the development of my interests and my sense of humor, but I feel certain that the former is the case.) When my mom came home a week or so later with both Prince Caspian and A Horse and His Boy, she was astonished -- since I was also horse-crazy -- that I didn't immediately dive into "the horse one" first, but of course I knew somehow (how? I wonder now, as I'm sure none of them had dust-jackets -- perhaps the clerk before me had pasted in a list carefully cut out from the blurb?).
That was another thing I have to be grateful for from that first job, the Narnia books, of course. But what prompted this post was the mass-market copy of The Hobbit given to me by the seminary's librarian, bless her, Dr. Genevieve Kelly. I hope she knew what she was starting, as I'm sure it would have pleased her. The book is yellowing and a bit brittle now, but still has the dedication inside the front cover, and it is one of my treasures. I don't remember much about Genevieve, I'm sorry to say -- from what I hear, she was quite an interesting and eccentric person. She had a beach house (I was sure it was Carpinteria, but my mom says Malibu), which was on a rather run-down and precarious stretch of beach, built out over the rocks so that you went in the front door at street level but once out on the balcony the waves at high tide were crashing underneath your feet. The house had begun to settle in a rather alarming direction -- towards the water -- and a great crack, perhaps two or three feet wide, had opened all along the front of the house, which necessitated a large plank laid across what Genevieve called "The Abyss" to the front door, and I remember (although my parents forbade us to go near it) thinking it a charming bit of sang-froid! She had a deep interest in music, and somewhere I have a madrigal she composed, in hand-written score, and my mom tells me that she used to practice her German by reading translated Zane Grey novels. I do remember that she had very frizzy hair! funny, what sticks in your mind. She died quite unexpectedly of cancer in 1975, in her late forties.
Amazingly, I just didn't get The Hobbit at first -- I couldn't even get past the first few pages and was nodding off. I'm embarrassed to say this now, as it has pretty much everything I love -- musical prose, cozy rooms and good food, maps and a bit of magic, brightly-colored waistcoats and gentle English humor -- and I am glad that I had another go at it not long after, for of course I fell in love with the Shire and Tolkien's wonderful stories, and can hardly imagine my life without them now.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Thank you, Genevieve.