Living in the Stacks

I went to the university library here in Youngstown yesterday, to do some research and find a few books I already own that are still sitting in boxes at my parents’ house until I decide to either get more bookshelves or find/buy a house (maybe some day!). I’ve always loved the university library, those floors and floors of books, microfilm, databases and special collections, the way the rows seem to go on forever, the way it’s so big you feel like maybe you could find some place where no one will ever look and you could perhaps make that hidden, quiet corner your home, and come and go from there from now on. I spent a lot of time as an undergrad and graduate student in that library. Research, for me, was exciting, no matter what the topic. When I read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, about graduate students of literature who are described in the book almost in a way that is reminiscent of detective fiction language, I totally understood where she was coming from with them. I’ve felt something similar to that detective-ness for the past fourteen years whenever I’ve entered library stacks, especially those looming, maze-like stacks of a university library. When I visited Kent State’s library years ago, which is even bigger, it felt like I was driving up on some immense, tower of learning in a high fantasy novel. All that access to knowledge and other people’s voices.

Anyway, as usual, I couldn’t just go find the books I meant to get. I got lost in the stacks, my attention snagged every five feet by some other book that caught my attention somehow. I never quite know how this works, but I think it always must have something to do with whatever my unconscious is working on for whatever book I’m writing at that moment. I register titles as I peruse the shelves, and my unconscious gets the info and then sends a message back–hey, pick that up and check it out. And often what I find are books I would never have thought to look at, or have never even heard of, that somehow do have something relevant to what I’m thinking about to tell me.

Yesterday’s find was two novels by one Rachel Field, about whom I know very little, but these quotes floored me while I read the opening pages to her novel And Now Tomorrow :

“There is a fascination in places that hold our past in safe keeping. We are drawn to them, often against our will. For the past is a shadow grown greater than its substance, and shadows have power to mock and betray us to the end of our days.”

And:

“I don’t pretend to know what I believe beyond this–that nothing which lives and breathes and has its appointed course under the sun can be altogether insignificant. Some trace remains of what we have been, of what we tried to be, even as the star-shaped petals of the apple blossom lie hidden at its core; even as the seed a bird scatters in flight may grow into the tree which shall later shelter other birds.”

I hope the book as a whole holds up the way these sentences do. But even if it doesn’t, these sentences are gems enough.

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