C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children, eds. Lyle W. Dorsett & Marjorie Lamp Mead

So my life has been in a smidgy bit of an uproar lately, for various reasons – my library card expired, for one thing, right on the day that half my books were due to get renewed!  I had no idea the expiration date was so soon; it feels like I just renewed it a few weeks ago.  And, see, I have this friendly blue library card with an elegant number that I have memorized, and it has one of the earliest extant drafts of my signature, which I had only invented recently when I got the card in 2001.  However, the library has since “upgraded” to fancy new white library cards that are just so cold and hateful and soulless, and every time I see them my brain is all NOT THE MEAN WHITE CARD DO NOT WANT, and the last time I got my library card renewed, the librarian tried to take my old card away and give me a nasty new one, and it was such a narrow escape, you have no idea.

This time I was prepared.  I said a whole lot of words to the library guy to convince him of the sincerity of my desire to keep my exact particular library card FOREVER.  “BECAUSE I KNOW THE NUMBERS BY HEART,” I explained to him urgently, not giving him my card when he put out his hand for it.  (I kept having visions of him snipping it smartly in half before I could stop him, and it was like watching someone CUT UP A CHILD.  It’s just so irrevocable.  Once you have cut a child in half, it’s too late to fix it!  You cannot tape it back together and keep using it!)

And he didn’t say anything, just kept waiting for me to hand him my library card, and I believe I said something along the lines of, “No, seriously, listen, I understand that there is a new library card in town but I cannot bear to lose this library card.  We have been together all these years and we just can’t be parted, you see, because it would be far too painful, a brutal separation really, and CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD?”  As I mopped up my tears and prepared to ululate martyr’s funeral style, to make sure he understood the serious mourning I would have to go into if he took my friendly blue library card away, the library guy looked to his colleague for assistance, and his colleague said, “Um, yeah, she can keep that one if she wants it.”  OH AND I DO.

Well anyway, it was very stressful, as you can imagine, in spite of the very validating realization that I have only accrued $13.30 in fines since three years ago when my card last had to be renewed.  So I sensibly bought myself some spiritually soothing books to get me through these and other difficulties.  I got a large green book with a soppy nature drawing on the front that is a compendium of C.S. Lewis’s religious writings – I need some of these, and the book cannot help the soppy drawing – and I got The Essential Rumi, which I love so much I haven’t yet figured out how to address it on this blog, and I got C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children.

Phew.  That was a long introduction for a very slim book.

Those of you who read this blog regularly may know that I have a rocky relationship with C.S. Lewis.  The longer we are apart, the more he bothers me.  I am sensibly buying a lot of C.S. Lewis’s books, so that I will be statistically more likely to read his stuff frequently, because in reality I love him an awful lot.  And this book, his letters to children, mainly about his Narnia books, is exactly the reason (well, one of many) that I love him.  He does not patronize, and it’s so easy to patronize a kid.  He writes in a serious but good-natured way, and answers their questions very politely.  Behold an excerpt:

Dear Lucy,

I am so glad that you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me.  I love E. Nesbit too and I think that I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind.  Do you know Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?  I think you wd. like it.  I am also bad at Maths and it is a continual nuisance to me – I get muddled over my change in shops.  I hope you’ll have better luck and get over the difficulty!  It makes life a lot easier.

It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you.  Because He could have used anyone – as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam.

Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me?

With all good wishes,

Yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis

I have this book of letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, and the editors of it have cleverly chosen a selection of letters relating to Lord of the Rings.  I bought it one time when I was in California learning Chinese (not very successfully though I can still count quite high), and although I do not count myself among the die-hard Lord of the Rings fans in my family (didn’t even read it until the films came out – I know, I know), I was captivated by Tolkien’s letters about it.  I wish someone would do a similar thing with C.S. Lewis and letters relating to his writing.  Not just Narnia but all of his writing.  How good would that be?

My love affair with the library

So today’s Booking Through Thursday question made me smile:

I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?

Oh, how often I use my public library.   I use my public library to cheer myself up whenever I am depressed.  The main branch of our public library is the library I have been going to since I was a little, little girl.  These days I work near a different branch, which is nice and saves me gas money, but I don’t feel the same way about it.  The drive from my parents’ house to the main branch of the library is my favorite drive of any in town – especially for those few weeks in March when the azaleas have blossomed most brilliantly.

My favorite memory of the library is how some weekends when we were in middle school (and maybe into high school?  I can’t remember), my sister and I and two or three of our geekier friends used to have what we called “library days” – we would all pack bag lunches and spend a Saturday at the library.  There was a particular place in the very, very back of the children’s section, where nobody ever went, and that was our base of operations for the day.  We’d put four or five cushioned benches together between the shelves and lie on them reading the massive piles of books we had collected.  It was perfect, because we liked hanging out together, and we loved being around all the books, and at the same time we suspected we weren’t meant to have the benches or be munching on carrots in the back of the children’s section, so it felt like we were getting away with something.

I’m not sure if technology advanced and they spotted us on closed circuit cameras, or if we started to look shady, but the library people stopped letting us hang out back there.  I would actually still really enjoy doing a library day, but every participant in them now lives in a different city; and anyway we are far too old.  Which I guess is just what happens when you grow up.

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library, Don Borchert

I put a hold on this book in November, after reading about it here, and I almost canceled it the day before it actually came in, because I thought surely the book was lost and would never be returned, and I was just out of luck as far as reading this book went.  Which I thought was too bad because it sounded interesting, and I was curious to know what I missed out on when I dropped out of the library science master’s program.

This book is amusing and entertaining, which is what it’s intended to be.  The stories he tells are funny and engaging, and it does give a good idea of the day-to-day life of a librarian.  But it never got past fun.  I one time read a memoir – I think it was A Charmed Life – where the author showed her book to an agent, or an editor, or something, and the person said that the book didn’t have a clear ‘sentence’; i.e., it wasn’t clear what sort of a book it was, and what it was saying.  That ‘sentence’ is what Free for All just didn’t have.  Each chapter had a sort of structure, but the book as a whole is just a great big collection of amusing/alarming/sad anecdotes.  As I say, it was entertaining, but it didn’t have the unifying structure that could have made it a really good memoir.

I also have to say, without any good explanation, that I wasn’t in love with the way he talked about race.  It’s nothing I could put my finger on – this happens to me sometimes, that someone will be talking about race, and I won’t be able to quote any one thing they’ve said as evidence to support my discomfort, but I will just not feel good about how they are talking.  I was not comfortable with the way the author wrote about racial issues.  It felt not quite right, that’s all I can say.  I enjoyed the book when he wasn’t talking about race.