I just found out that Furiously Happy was chosen as one of the 10 LibraryReads for September. That means that librarians around the country nominated it as one of the top books they can’t wait to share with readers. That nod is one of the most poignant honors I have ever received and I cried when I heard it, although not everyone would understand why.
When I was little my favorite places were libraries. You weren’t expected to speak, which was heaven for a shy girl with an anxiety disorder. Thousands of small secret stories were hidden in plain sight all around you, just waiting to be held in your hands and discovered. As a small girl in rural Texas, I knew that the best chance I had of seeing worlds that would never be open to me, and meeting fantastic people I’d never be bold enough to speak to was through books. I was able to see places that exist (or that had existed, and or that would never exist) through the words of the storytellers whose worlds had been bound up and shared and protected through generations of docent-guardians who called themselves “librarians”.
I don’t remember my mother ever playing with my sister or me, but she read during any spare second she had. She read to us. She read to herself. She had us read to each other. A few times a month we’d get dressed up to drive into town to visit the nearest library. I still remember the reverent hush as we walked through the doors – the quiet hum of the air conditioner…the feeling of reverence that others may have experienced in churches but which I found in the quiet awe that was the library. I remember breathing in the welcoming smell of the dust of the books. The soft sounds of the drawers of wooden card-catalogs that had slid open and closed so many times that they became a velvety hush. The clean white slips of paper and tiny pencils waiting there (for free!) so that you might look up something wonderful and write down the secret code that would lead you to treasure. I remember the hunt for the book. For adventure. For magic.
And sometimes you’d get lucky and there would be a special librarian there. Of course, all librarians were special when you were little. They were the guards and they were larger than life. They knew the secret codex of books. They were good witches and wizards who kept small keys around their necks, keys to special, sacred artifacts you had to know the secret password to see.
The librarians were all magical in their own way, but some had a special gift, as if they could see behind your eyes. They could look at you, measuring you in their heads, and say:
“Let me see your hands. Ah. Yes. Today is a day for adventure. Would you like to see Mars? Let me introduce you to Ray Bradbury.”
“Today you look like you need magic. I think a dose of Ruth Chew will fix you right up.”
“I know you may feel lonely sometimes but I have friends I think you’d love to meet. This is Francie Nolan and Celie Harris and Laura Ingalls-Wilder. They will never, ever leave you.”
They knew the secret spider-web path from one book to the next. They knew when it was too early for Melville. They knew when to turn a blind eye as you furiously devoured the Stephen King books your mother didn’t think you were old enough for. They knew when to pull out the special key and gloves and let you see their first edition of Alice in Wonderland, or the hidden-from-light, brittle, handwritten histories of the bordello that had done booming business next door to the library until the Texas Rangers shut it down. They knew all the secrets that had ever been whispered and you hoped – in time – they would share them with you.
Librarians are how libraries speak. Theirs are the small faces behind a million stories and facts. Theirs are the simple hands that introduce you to the people who will shape you, and the ghosts that will haunt you, and the ideas that will drive you, and the friends that will never leave you. They know the science of knowledge and beauty and laughter, and – though you can’t quite imagine it – they’ve cried over the same books that have broken and rebuilt your heart. They’ve ridden in the same sleigh with the snow queen. They’ve flown over London and sailed on pirate ships and visited Shangri-La and watched the world be destroyed and created and destroyed again. And what they want more than anything else is to share those impossible journeys with you.
Librarians are magic – In every sense of the word. And that’s why this particular recognition is one of the greatest things I could possibly imagine. Because it feels like – in some small way – I’m giving back. That I’m becoming part of the tapestry of writers who reach out through time with their words to say, “Let me tell you a story. Let me tell you about us. You are not alone.”
One of the greatest gifts I will ever get is to imagine that one day soon, in a faraway town, a librarian may look down at searching eyes and say, “Yes. You look like you need something special today. Let me introduce you to my friend – Jenny Lawson. She’s slightly profane and highly irreverent and I believe she may have exactly what you need. I think you’ll be great friends.”
“Honored” doesn’t quite seem like a strong enough word for what I feel. I need a better word. I suspect a real writer would probably know that word immediately, but I’ll give it time until it comes to me. And if it doesn’t come, I’ll do what I always do. I’ll ask a magician. I’ll ask a librarian.