In the center of the UNC campus stands a statue garden. My favorite sculpture is this one of a co-ed carrying a stack of reading materials. It reminds me of pulling together a summer reading list.
I used to love participating in the summer reading program at the public library in my hometown. When I was a kid the Hill City Library was housed in the second floor of the old City Hall Building on Pomeroy Avenue. The two-story building is solidly constructed of the green Ogallala quartz that is unique to the region. The fire department occupied the ground floor of the building. To reach the library you had to ascend a set of stairs inside the absolutely silent building. I was naturally a very quiet child, yet each step I took up that stairway seemed to echo through the place as though I were a clambering monkey. The higher I climbed, the more I inhaled the dank scent of the library--a mixture of an earthen smell that likely came from the stone structure itself, and the musty-dusty book smell blended to create a scent that I never smell in a library today. It is a smell I associate with the joy I found in books especially during the summer reading program which brought me back to this magical place multiple times each week.
I remember walking the block and a half from my house to the library each week as the sun baked my shade-free route. As soon as I stepped inside the Municipal Building the cool of the stone enveloped me. I met Harriet the Spy within these walls. I discovered a love of biography; after reading about Anne Sullivan and Abraham Lincoln I felt the urge to try something worldly and shocking. To my young mind there was no one who fit the bill more completely than Marilyn Monroe, though I had seen not a single one of her movies. It took all the courage I could muster to take a book with Marilyn's iconic face plastered across the cover to the lady at the check-out desk who knew each of my siblings and both of my parents. I could not believe that she was willing to stamp the due date on the check-out card and the return date sheet firmly glued inside the front cover, and I fairly flew down the stairway that amplified each click of my feet upon the individual steps as I raced back out onto the street leading home. To this day I haven't done another thing that has left me feeling like I was taking a walk on the wild side even close to the experience of checking out that biography that I was certain everyone in town would consider risqué if only they knew my secret.
The Summer Reading Program involved the tracking of progress. I don't remember working towards any prize through reading the books over the summer other than the addition of colored circle stickers at periodic intervals along the way. The opportunity to compulsively record the completed reading was reward enough for me, nerd child that I was.
Summer reading is a habit I maintain to this day. I no longer give myself a round, colored sticker as I pass each milestone on my reading journey, still the stack of books I intend to read is no shorter than it was during the carefree summers of the late 1960s and early 70s. On the top of the summer reading pile this year is The Ogallala Road subtitled A Story of Love, Family and the Fight to Keep the Great Plains from Running Dry. Just because I no longer skip down Pomeroy Avenue in anticipation of what I will find on the library shelves, does not mean that I do long for solid answers for ways to preserve life in my dry and dwindling home town for the next little girl who is enchanted by the smell of a collection of books that offer to take her away, but instead anchor her to this time and place in memory.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?