Dear Librarians, My People,

I owe you everything.

I learned how to read in a library because I spent every Saturday morning there, usually by myself.  Every Saturday morning, my father would announce that he needed to go to the barber’s. But since he was bald from the time I was born, I think what he meant was “I have a poker game every Saturday,” and then he’d drop me off at the library with my little red wagon so I could accumulate a lot of books. I learned to say at a very early age, My name is Amy Bloom, my telephone number is 487-8528 and my father will be back soon.

They did have a children’s section, but I was a very lucky in my library life and the librarians let me read anything anywhere, including stretched out on the cool slate floors of the upper stacks.

My favorite encounter with a librarian ever was when I was, as I often was, lying on the floor of the stacks, having decided to work my way from A to Z. I had only just gotten started and I was reading on the floor. I had some contraband Ritz crackers in a bag. Picture me, just a shorter rounder version of my adult self, with wild black curls and pink harlequin glasses.  I think I got a lot of compassion on account of the glasses.

I looked up from my book—there must have been some shift in the air around me–and I realized that the librarian was standing sort of toe-to-eye with me – and that’s in the day when librarians looked like librarians: two pairs of reading glasses on chains, resting on a bust like a couch under a flowered silk tent and finished off with Enna Jettick shoes, which l I still remember because I had so much time to admire them, close as I was.

And the librarian  said “What’s that you have there, dear?” and I said “It’s a  great book and now I know what I want to be when I grow up.”

“What’s the book,” she said.

I said, “It’s wonderful. It’s a girls clubhouse and the girls have great outfits and there is marabou” –and I had had to run down the three flights of stairs to the dictionary on the stand next to the librarians’ desk to look up what “marabou” was, because there was not much of that in my house and then I would run back up) and discover the words “peignoir sets.” Down to the dictionary, back up to the fourth floor.

And the librarian said to, “Do they? Do they wear peignoir sets? What happens then?”

I said “Well, I’m not sure. They’re all friends and they sit around and then at the end of the day some of the boyfriends come over.”

And she said “What do you think happens then?” and I said “I think they play Canasta.”

And she said, “Well, you must take it home and show your mother.”

And so my first full-length adult book was A House Is Not a Home: Memoirs of a New York Madam by Polly Adler. and to her great credit, my mother said only “I think they do play Canasta.”

I could not have written a single book without librarians and without libraries because I wouldn’t have known where to start, how to fill in the blanks, how to understand the gaps in my own knowledge. When I teach and students say Oh yeah I Googled it, I always say that’s fine for a first step and now let’s talk about libraries.

Research is not writing. From this writer’s point of view, it is much, much better than writing. It allows the writer to act as if she is, indeed, writing, but really, it’s writing-adjacent, offering respite, information and inspiration. From Eleanor’s passionate love letters to Lorena Hickock to my more recent deep dive into the best and sometimes obscure books about Alzheimer’s, every time I have been in a library, I breathe better, I think better and I write better.

Thanks to you, beacons of light.

Amy Bloom

Learn more about In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss Here.

An Author Letter from Amy Bloom

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