Life in the Hills: More than just books

A few weeks ago, I attended a wonderful luncheon for Narrative Magazine, an online literary magazine, organized by Los Altos resident Katie Dickson. From the opening comments on how the world of books came alive for Katie when she read “Harriet the Spy” and identified with “the intrepid, curious, young detective” to Narrative’s high school award-winner explaining how her grandmother wove stories while cooking for the family with her “gnarled hands” and Executive Director Carol Edgarian interviewing author Susan Orleans, who wrote “The Orchid Thief” and “The Library Book,” I sat on the edge of my seat.

For I have had my nose in a book from the time I could remember. Listening to Orleans describe her love affair with her local library growing up and everything it embodied for her resonated with me so strongly that I knew I had to write this column before I even read her book.

Many years ago, my mother, similarly, took me by the hand and led me into the Children’s section of our library back in Highland Park, Ill., and introduced me to the treasures therein. Instructing me that I could take out only 12 books at a time, biographies, “Encyclopedia Brown” and later Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth” fueled my love for reading. I frequently dreamed of being locked in the library like the brother and sister were locked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

So, naturally, when we moved to Los Altos in 1996, I headed straight to the Los Altos Library with my, at the time, 18-month-old daughter in tow for Toddler Story Time. She could barely even sit still while the librarian read the first book. She preferred to climb on the cushions in the back of the Children’s section – which meant, in this time before cellphones and email, I could relax for a few precious moments and read my own book while she safely explored. One day, while a bit too engrossed in my own story, my daughter wandered off the cushions and out of sight. Not my best parenting moment, I started calling her name and searching for her. Concurrently, there was another mother calling for her daughter by the exact same name! Finding our two daughters together pulling books off the shelves, we started to laugh and introduced ourselves. Twenty-two years later, with five daughters between us, we often remember where our friendship began. It led us to many return trips to the library, play dates at the park and each others’ homes, dates with our husbands, family camping trips and a book club, of course.

These days, I still frequently visit the library. While many people have transitioned to e-readers, I crave the break from looking at a screen and prefer to hold a book in my hands to turn the pages.

It is never a quick trip to the library, but always nourishing. The newest best-sellers beckon me first. If I am lucky, and have more time, I can stop to peruse the DVDs, cookbooks, music, audiobooks and then work my way through the Fiction and Nonfiction sections. Mentally, I add volumes of books to my reading wish list, while checking out more than I could possibly read before their due date. Oftentimes, if I have walked from home to get there, my dog will start impatiently barking outside. My overdue balance is never $0, and my 14-digit library card is imprinted on my memory for quick checkout, as are the multitude of stories in which I have been able to immerse myself over the years due to our wonderful public library.

Julie Arnheim is a Los Altos Hills resident and Town Crier contributor.

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