By Marge Piercy
As I was growing up in Detroit, my mother and I would go to the Gabriel Richard [pronounced rish hard, accent on 2nd syllable] library that was some distance away. Since my father had the only car, and besides, had no interest in library books as he read only the Saturday Evening Post and the Detroit News, we’d walked to Livernois, about 5 blocks away, and took a bus to the major street our library was on. We would both take an armful of books home.
I loved that library.
I had read my way through all that interested me in the Children’s Room before I was twelve. I began to read mysteries from the adult room. I got to know both librarians and they were very friendly and sweet to me.
After I entered high school, I began to walk the mile and three quarters to the library or to bike there and lock my bike up outside – not that anybody was likely to steal that bike. I forged a note supposedly from my mother saying that I had her permission to take out any book in the library from the adult section. Both librarians accepted the note as real, and I was free to read the books I wanted to, starting with Hemmingway’s short stories and Faulkner’s, The Golden Bough, lots of fiction and nonfiction including books about myth and ritual, and biographies of women who interested me.
It was my haven. Also in my junior year of high school, I began going via bus and trolley to the Main Public Library half across the city on Woodward Avenue. I adored the big quiet rooms there. One aspect about libraries I loved, both our local one and the huge one on Woodward, was their quiet. Our little house was crowded and always noisy. There was no privacy there. Libraries gave me not only the information, the education, the culture I craved, but they were quiet, and nobody hassled me. It was privacy I lacked at home.
When I was a scholarship student at the University of Michigan covering the living expenses by working two jobs, my last two years, I worked in the University of Michigan library. I loved the stacks. I was always investigating the different sections. With a friend, I explored under the huge wheel that ended in sand under the building by which means books were loaded to retrieve from the stacks and go up to the desk to be checked out. I found a number of books that had fallen off and lay there in the sand. I felt I was rescuing them.
My husband can write in margins, highlight passages, and turn down pages and even discard books. I treat books with far more reverence. Books are my income, my legacy, and to this day, my pleasure.
Libraries were my refuge and my education.∎
Marge Piercy has written 17 novels and 20 volumes of poetry. She’s a favorite of both Garrison Keillor and Bill Moyers. Her works include The New York Times Bestseller Gone To Soldiers; the National Bestsellers Braided Lives and The Longings of Women; the classics Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She and It; and among her 20 volumes of poetry the most recently published is On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light. Her critically acclaimed memoir is Sleeping with Cats. Born in center city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan and Northwestern, the recipient of four honorary doctorates, she is active in antiwar, feminist and environmental causes.
Find out more about Marge HERE.∎