Tomorrow (7/11/12), I’m giving a program at my local library. It’s on Jane Austen and her legacy, especially how it sparked my own career as an author, with a reading and signing included. It’s going to be informal, interactive, and fun. If you’re in the Seattle/Tacoma area, I’d love for you to stop by! (find more details here)
With the brick-and-mortar bookstores sadly disappearing, libraries are becoming increasingly the sole center of the book world for a lot of communities, even hosting author events like the one I’m doing. They have had to change with the times and technology, but, for now at least, library shelves are still filled with old-fashioned, physical books that have passed from hand to hand and given up their treasures to one reader after another. For the true bookworm, the lure is irresistible.
In Jane Austen’s day, libraries were more a private affair, and collecting books primarily the purview of the upper classes. Every great house had a library. In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, Mr. Bennet is always retreating to the safe haven of the library at Longbourn; Mr. Bingley apologizes that he doesn’t have a larger collection of books in his at Netherfield; and Miss Bingley praises Mr. Darcy’s delightful library at Pemberley. “It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
If you were not wealthy enough to have a vast collection of your own books, you could purchase a subscription to the circulating library in the nearest good-sized town. That’s what poor Fanny Price has to resort to when she is temporarily sent away from Mansfield Park to her birth family’s home in Portsmouth. She cannot replace all she’s lost, but books are a comfort still within her reach.
She often heaved a sigh at the remembrance of all her books and boxes, and various comforts there… The remembrance of the said books grew so potent and stimulative that Fanny found it impossible not to try for books again. There were none in her father’s house; but wealth is luxurious and daring, and some of hers found its way to a circulating library. She became a subscriber; amazed at being anything in propria persona, amazed at her own doings in every way, to be a renter, a chuser of books! And to be having any one’s improvement in view in her choice! But so it was. Susan had read nothing, and Fanny longed to give her a share in her own first pleasures, and inspire a taste for the biography and poetry which she delighted in herself. (Mansfield Park, chapter 40)
Notice that part of the enjoyment Fanny anticipates is sharing the delight of reading with someone else (in this case her younger sister, Susan). Isn’t that true of all of us? Books are a pleasure we long to share. Which brings me back to Wednesday’s event at my local library. Like Fanny, a large part of the enjoyment I anticipate from that evening is in sharing my love of books and reading with others.
Who have you shared your love of books with? Who first taught you to love reading?