The things we remember

At the K-8 school I attended as a child, lunchrooms were provided for the younger grades, but grades seven and eight were given off-campus lunch privileges and told to go figure it out on our own. (Were we allowed to use the lunchroom if it rained? I don’t remember; I’m sure we felt ourselves too cool to do so in any case.) My friend group rotated through a series of haunts: two local parks, one of which had a wonderful ravine where we hung a rope swing and occasionally lost our shoes in the mud; the two street corners right by the school, where the variety stores sold pizza slices and penny candy; a local grocery store with a small restaurant inside; and the homes of friends who lived near the school, if their parents would tolerate it. (Also if they didn’t tolerate it, just with more sneaking.)

In grade eight, we discovered the public library.

Not that any of us were unfamiliar with the concept, or even with that particular branch, which was about a ten minute walk from school. I passed it twice a day. But I don’t think any of us had realised that it was open during school hours. This branch’s children’s section took up nearly the entire basement of the building. It had a few computers, and orange carpet, and best of all, a secluded nook with low tables and chairs, where we chewed through our illicit sandwiches and everything the middle grade shelves had to offer: Archie comics, R. L. Stine, Judy Bloom, Lois Lowry, V. C. Andrews… Somewhere along the line, one of us (who?) was the first to discover Diane Duane.

(Aside: I have always been enchanted by the wonderful symmetry of that name. In grade two we used to sneak off to the girls’ bathroom, turn off the lights, and scare ourselves silly chanting BloodyMary BloodyMary BloodyMary into the mirror. Could I summon something with a well-timed DianeDuane DianeDuane DianeDuane? Perhaps I could, in the age of googling oneself. Diane, are you reading this? Sorry for being so weird! End of aside.)

I read The Book of Night with Moon, which concerns a group of wizard cats in NYC; I know this because I cheerfully plagiarized it in a short story I wrote that year. And I remember that story chiefly because my mother used it as an occasion to demonstrate how to use a semicolon to separate place names in a list. Thanks, Mom! What the plot of the book is I couldn’t tell you. Nor could I have given you any details about her Young Wizards series of books, which I assumed I hadn’t read when I started the first one earlier this month. But! I must have read them, because I chanced across this passage in Deep Wizardry (the second book in the series) and immediately recognized it:

I didn’t remember anything about the main characters, the thrust of the plot, the way magic works, or any of the books’ Very Exciting Adventury Stuff: becoming whales, going to Mars, battling the Lone Power in an alternate universe, fighting alongside and against various figures from Irish mythology, etc. etc. etc. None of that stuck. But this specific image, of learning to walk on the ocean — and, later, a short note on how tiring it was, because you had to use muscles that aren’t involved in walking on flat surfaces — for whatever reason, this is the nugget my brain decided to keep. Why? Beats me. But I’m delighted it did, and delighted for the memories it unlocked of those dusty lunch breaks in the far corner of the children’s library, sneaking chips and apples from our bags under the table, and passing around the books that turned out to be shaping us.

Weekend Reading: the gift of stories, Facebook and the free press, and keeping a library

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here

1. Farmer Boy and the Gift of Handing Down Stories (

When I read aloud (again) this book recently with our children, I wondered: When was the last time I told them stories of my childhood? How much do they know about what it was like for me growing up? Have I given them the gift that Almanzo gave his wife and child—the same gift my grandfather also gave to me?

A lovely little piece on the value of personal storytelling, especially within the family.

2. Can We Be Saved from Facebook? (Rolling Stone)

Internet platforms like Zuck’s broke the back of the working press first by gutting our distribution networks, and then by using advanced data-mining techniques to create hypertargeted advertising with which no honest media outlet could compete. This wipeout of the press left Facebook in possession of power it neither wanted nor understood.

Yes, I’m still harping on about social media. This is an excellent piece about the impact Facebook’s algorithms have on our lives and especially on our relationship to traditional news media.

3. How to Keep a Library of Physical Books (

This post is a bit heavy-handed, perhaps — but I think the author hits some things home as well. I love being surrounded by physical books and here are some of the many reasons why.