Friday, 15 May 2015

Gary Paulsen's story of becoming a reader and writer

We have several of Gary Paulsen's novels in our library. Here he is writing of a time in his past where a thoughtful librarian introduced him to his first book, and the impact that chance meeting had on his life.
Thanks to the Children's Bookshop for sharing this in their newsletter:
When I was 13 a librarian gave me book and I consider every good thing that has ever happened to me since then a result of that woman handing me that book.
I’d been wandering the streets of the small Minnesota town we lived in one bitter winter evening, waiting for the drunks in the bars to get juiced. I sold newspapers, trying to scrape together a little money so that I could buy better clothes, believing, as kids do, that the right clothes might somehow lift me from my wretchedly unpopular social life. And if I waited for the men in the bars to get a few drinks in them, I could hustle them for extra change. 
One night, as I was walking past the public library in twenty below temperatures I could see the reading room bathed in beautiful golden light. I went in to get warm and, to my absolute astonishment, the librarian walked up to me and said, 'Would you like a book?”
I said, 'Sure.' And she said, 'Bring it back when you're done and you can get another one”. The librarian typed my name on a card, I looked at it and somehow that made me somebody. 
Later that night back at what passed for home, a crummy apartment in the bad part of town, I took the book to a hideaway I’d created behind the furnace where someone had abandoned a creaky old armchair under a bare light bulb. I sat in the corner plodding through the book. It took me for ever to read. I was such a poor reader that, by the time I’d finished a page, I’d have forgotten what I’d read on the page before and I’d have to go back. That first book must have taken me over a month to finish, hunched over the pages late at night. I wish I could remember the name of that first book - I can’t even remember what it was about. What I do remember about that evening at the library was that it marked the first of many nights the librarian would give me a book. “Here,” she’d say, handing me a few battered volumes. “I think you’ll like these.” She would hand select books that she thought would interest me - westerns, mysteries, survival tales, science fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I would take them home to hide in the basement and read; I’d bring them back and we’d talk about them, and she’d give me more books. She didn't care if I wore the right clothes, dated the right girls; none of those prejudices existed in the library. But she wasn’t just giving me books, she was giving me ... everything.  
When she handed me that library card, she handed me the world. She gave me the first
hint I’d ever had in my entire life that there was something other than my drunken parents
screaming at each other in the kitchen, ....where I wasn’t going to get beaten up by the
school bullies. She showed me places where it didn’t hurt all the time. 
I read terribly at first but as I did more of it, the books became more a part of me and within a short time they gave me a life, a look at life outside myself that made me look forward instead of backward”. - (edited)
American author Gary Paulsen (Hatchet etc)