One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being “banned” from our tiny public library in the rural Louisiana town where I grew up. I was six or seven, and had misplaced the books I’d last borrowed. I can’t remember how or where I lost them, perhaps during a ramble through the fields, or traveling between the houses of my divorced parents. Whatever the reason, in my childish recollection, the librarian’s face was stony as she pronounced my sentence and showed me the door.
My mother would have paid for the books, or appealed on my behalf to the librarian, who was probably just having a bad day. But I was too ashamed to mention the incident. Fortunately, the Catholic school I attended had its own even smaller library which supplied me for the next few years. And I never lost another library book.
But that memory of banishment remains a blot of despair on a relatively carefree phase of my childhood. Books, especially fiction, had already become my religion and my salvation, the guide by which I navigated the bewildering matter of being human. To be denied access was to starve an essential part of my self, to disconnect from the source.
We eventually moved and I was welcomed into other libraries, braving the Dewey Decimal System and inhaling the marvelous, stale perfume of the stacks. The Chronicles of Narnia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories for Late At Night—every visit produced a dazzling trove that transported, challenged, and thrilled. As life grew more complex and adolescence sprouted thorns, books buoyed my soul and offered a nuanced moral compass. They still do.
My deepest longing is to create that experience for others with my own writing. Not from some altruistic place, but because I cannot fathom a better use of my life. More importantly, writing keeps me close to the source, doors wide open, forever welcoming.
Rebecca Baum is a New York City transplant from rural Louisiana. She’s authored several short stories and two novels. The most recent, Lifelike Creatures, will be published by Regal House Publishing in September 2020. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan at Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. She’s a cofounder of a creative studio where she is a ghostwriter, copywriter, and blogger. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and their cat.