Something you should know about me: I love books, and I love libraries. I could—and I have actually–spent hours wandering around a library. I don’t mean research trips. I mean simply wandering through the stacks for the sheer pleasure of picking up and looking through books.
When I was little girl, my mom would take my little sister and me to a nearby branch of the Dallas, Texas library. There she would let us wander around the children’s section while she browsed for books for herself. Even before I could read, I loved wandering through the stacks and picking up books. My favorites were Maurice Sendak’s Pierre and Chicken Soup with Rice. I knew exactly where they lived in the children’s section. After my sister and I chose the books we wanted, we would wander around the library. While we were waiting for my mom, we would play one of our favorite games– standing over the heating/cooling vents to make our dresses (because in the early 1960s, little girls wore dresses, not pants) blow up practically to our faces as we giggled. I suppose it looked like little girls imitating Marilyn Monroe, except that we had no idea who she was, and as far as we knew, we were the only people who had ever thought of standing over a vent.
When I was in seventh grade my parents got divorced. In the middle of the school year, my mother, sisters, and I moved from Dallas, Texas to Havertown, a suburb of Philadelphia, where my father’s sisters and their families lived. A day or two after our move, I was in the library at Haverford Township Junior High. It was tucked between the “modern” wing of the stone building and its older section, a sort of junior high no man’s zone that always seemed to be empty of students. I was suffering a bit of culture shock; although we regularly visited Philadelphia and family in the suburbs, and I was far more “east coast” than Texan, the Haverford Township schools were far more rigorous and completely different from the ones we had attended in Dallas. Libraries, however, are libraries wherever they are.
I scanned the shelves eagerly, looking for something to read, something that would help to fill my spare time. I noticed a book with the one-word title, Rebecca, on its spine. I had never heard of the book, but I liked the name Rebecca, and I wondered who she was. When I got home to my aunt’s house, where we were staying temporarily, I found a comfortable chair, and started to read the book. I was instantly engrossed in the nameless heroine’s story (and yes, I now picture her as Joan Fontaine).
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Recently, I realized this first line from Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, has to be one of my all-time favorite first lines. Perhaps it is not so much the sentence itself as it is the memory of how the book swept me, a scared, shy seventh grader, into a world of secrets and intrigue in 1930s Cornwall, and how that escape helped to comfort me in a new situation.