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June 6, 2011

Wild Libraries I Have Known: Vanessa's Bedroom

In which Nathalie Foy tells us about a wild library she has known:

It’s not a library, exactly, but I did borrow books from Vanessa’s bedroom.  It was a large, cool and quiet space, with the hushed and reverential atmosphere of a library, and from its shelves, I borrowed many books.  When Kerry asked me to contribute to this series, it was memories of Vanessa’s books that came most powerfully to mind.

Port-au-Prince, 1977.  We were seven, and Vanessa was my best friend.  We lived in Haiti, and attended Union School in Port-au-Prince.  Vanessa was an only child and adopted, her pigtails were perfect ringlets and never fell out; I had an annoying younger brother and a boring pedigree, my poker-straight hair sought any means of escape from braids, ponytails or hair bands.  Vanessa had a four-poster bed with a canopy in her bedroom, all frills and luxury.  Bright pink bougainvillea bloomed outside her window, and in golden rows on her bookshelf sat the complete set of Nancy Drew mysteries.  Every single one.  All arrayed in numerical order, the yellow spines each had the cameo profile of the girl detective holding her magnifying glass: a vast, crisp expanse of potential.  Even the school library did not have the whole set.

Oh, how I envied her that collection!  I borrowed and read the books in sequence, but even at the time, I was aware of a definite taint to the experience.  There was a limit placed on my pleasure by greed: I wanted the books to be mine.  I am certain that the book buyer in me was born in that bedroom, because I do like to own books.

Somehow, at the impressionable age of seven, I conflated the wonders of that complete set of Nancy Drew mysteries and the four-poster bed with being an only child and adopted—all of which were to be envied.  It was all so exotic; it was what I was not.  I’ve met other only children and adopted children since then, none with complete sets of Nancy Drew, and I like my brother considerably more today than I did when he was five and a pest.  I have since learned that Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for the stable of anonymous writers who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries for $125 a pop.  My life experience has not cured me of my covetousness when it comes to books, though.

I love libraries.  I love what they do and what they stand for.  I love that they open up the world for us.  I am humbled each time I see the crowds outside of the Toronto Reference Library, and I feel a surge of joy when I see the noble griffin protecting the doors of Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library, the branch I use most regularly. Most of the time, I check out books for my three boys, being more reliable with getting things read by the due date with them than for myself.  But if we read a book and love it, I itch to buy it.  My boys have the luxury of a childhood lived in one place.  I moved to a new country every two or three years, and precious few books from my childhood survived the moves.  I’m making up for lost time and making my own rows of delicious books to devour.

5 thoughts on “Wild Libraries I Have Known: Vanessa's Bedroom”

  1. I have nothing at all to add, I just want to be able to LIKE this post. 😀 This was a great read, Nathalie!

    1. Kerry says:

      I think so too, Charlotte!

  2. Beth-Anne says:

    Oh, Nathalie! I could relate to you lusting after your friend’s Nancy Drew collection. I remember in the 5th grade coveting Jillian’s complete set of The Babysitter’s Club, including all of the Super Special Editions. I believe she even had the complete set of Sweet Valley High. That didn’t do it for me as much but still . . .

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