There sat the world

The Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library.
Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle via Unsplash

“I was a hugely unchaperoned reader, and I would wander into my local public library and there sat the world, waiting for me to look at it, to find out about it, to discover who I might be inside it.”Patrick Ness

When I was a child, we didn’t have nearly as many children’s books in our home as I would have liked. But we did have quite a few books of general interest, including some really magnificent items, and none of them were off limits to us. I remember spending hours with the books from our modest home library .

Whether I was at home or at the public library, I could spend as much time as I wanted browsing and poring over whatever caught my eye. I don’t remember my parents ever trying to censor or limit my reading. In fact, once when my older brother saw me reading a book called Expectant Motherhood, he felt duty-bound to report it to my mother, feeling certain she would not want me to be exposed to these biological details at an early age. But she just scoffed at his concern, telling him there was no harm in my reading it.

Thus I grew up sensing that information was nothing to fear, and wide-ranging opinions were not dangerous if tested by reason, logic and fact. I connected immediately with the quote by Ness, especially his description of himself as “a hugely unchaperoned reader.” For all the adventures I would later experience through travel, my earliest explorations were made possible by public and school libraries.

It’s never too late to set out on an unchaperoned voyage of discovery, and you need travel no farther than your public library, much of which you now can access directly via your home computer. Unlike the structured reading done in the context of classes and assignments, solo expeditions at the library allow you to follow your own pathways and timetables. There sits the world, waiting for you– send us a few postcards of your most interesting finds!

Happy Birthday to my sister, who read to me and taught me to read.


  1. Susan

    Ooohhh, libraries. I love them so much. I may be the Kingstowne library’s most frequent visitor! If not I’m definitely up there somewhere 🙂 . In elementary school I was disappointed that I could only check out two books a week. Then when I was in fourth grade we moved to a house across from our church, which had a library, so that was two more books a week! And around age 11 or so I was allowed to take the bus to the big downtown library. Not a typical junior high hangout, but I loved it there 🙂 . One of the best things about finishing college was being able to read what I wanted to, instead of what was assigned to me.

    Have you been to the NY Public Library? I haven’t yet, and my trips to NYC are usually just to Yankee Stadium and back, haha, but I do want to go sometime and soak up the atmosphere and see the original Winnie the Pooh toys!

    • Susan, I so identify with this comment; almost everything you wrote here could have been written by me. I too used to hang out at the Kingstowne library, and I was totally frustrated with the 2-book limit we had in elementary school. How lucky for you to live across the street from your church library! Yes, I think the best thing about being finished with college was being able to read for fun. Graduate school was way better since I was getting my library degree, hee-hee. Hey, if you ever want to make a trip to New York to go to the NY Public Library, I’d love to go with you! It would be great to visit NYC with a library lover. I’ve been within blocks of the NYPL several times, but have never been there. They still have lots of cheap flights from DCA-NYC– I’m serious about wanting to go, so let me know if you’d like to plan a trip!

      • Susan

        I walked past the NYC Library once, and was so tempted to go in, but it didn’t fit with our schedule, alas. When I’ve visited the old neighborhood I’ve peeked into the church library (it has limited open times) and the same rack of Nancy Drew books is still there — total childhood nostalgia : ).

        • WOW, I’d have been tempted to go back sometimes and check out those Nancy Drew books (literally and figuratively) 🙂 – there’s nothing like being unable to visit a library to prompt my saying “I’ll have to come back here sometime…”

  2. Sheila


    • Thank you, Sheila! Sorry I’m so late getting to this comment. For the first time in recent memory, we got to be together on her birthday since I was at their home. We had lots of fun. ❤

  3. I love that quote! I am also a ferocious reader!😃 I have library cards from all over the country. Love to you and Matt!💗 Love and Light!🌟🌟🌟

    • Cherie, I’m so happy to learn that you too have a collection of library cards! All the ones I have from states other than Virginia have expired now, but I keep them as souvenirs. In California you could get a card from any library in the state, as long as you lived there. Back in those days there were some that definitely had better digital books and audio books than others, so I had cards from many locations which I could use from home via computer. I still have my Hawaii and San Antonio cards too, plus a temporary student research card to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which I got mainly to add to my collection. So happy to learn that you are a fellow “treasure-hunter” — see you in the stacks! 🙂 ❤

  4. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Does your older brother remember that episode as you described? Sounds like your Mom was pretty understanding.
    I, too, liked to visit our public library in the small town where I grew up. It was tiny; but I didn’t know that back then. One of my favorite “books” was an atlas. For some reason I could sit and look at maps for hours on end. Imagine how thrilled I am today with the ‘maps’ app on my iPad; not to mention Google Earth! Some days I can sit for quite a while just ‘traveling the world’. 😊
    Hope you and Matt have a wonderful week!

    • Chris, if my brother remembers the incident at all, it’s almost certain that he would have a different take on it. I’ve learned over the years that my siblings, friends and I often have totally different memories of the same events — not that any of us is necessarily wrong, we just see things differently. I wish I could say my Mom was understanding, but it’s likely she was simply busy and impatient with what she viewed as a trivial objection. I think she saw reading as one of the most innocent things I could be up to, and in that she was quite right. Perhaps my favorite memory of Mama was that she used to buy me a little golden book each week when we went to the grocery store. So she definitely did believe in reading. Nobody in our home had much interest in TV, except for a few preferred programs. The first time Jeff came to visit me, he discovered the old console TV was broken, and nobody could even remember when it quit working.

      I’ve observed that some people love maps and atlases, and others have no use for them at all. I’m a great fan of looking at maps, too, as is my older son, but Jeff hated to even look at a street map, preferring to rely on his mostly-accurate internal navigation. Yes, it’s easy to get absorbed in looking at maps and forget the time. In fact, when I was answering Susan’s comment just now, I spent a good bit of time studying a map of Manhattan to get a better sense of where the NYPL sits. I love being able to switch from maps to photographs, and especially to be able to get street views! That really is getting close to traveling from the comfort of home.

  5. Raynard

    Julia just last speaking to a gentleman that’s from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn as I am. I happen to mention the Big Public library at Grand Army Plaza. The only time I go to the library now is to pickup income tax forms . When I first dated Mary I use to take her to the library then out to eat and then ice cream. I do audiobooks now along with digital books on Google. I just started reading this book that I will recommend to you. The book is titled It’s ok not to be ok by Shelia Walsh. I by request put on that Knight costume again from last year. It was a skit done in church yesterday about wearing the full armor of God. This time I got smart and didn’t wear Batman Tights lol.Too cold.No Flower show this year going to do something different .Making up a plan as I go along .

    • Raynard, when we all get together to tour the botanical gardens, we’ll have to make a side trip to the big library there in Brooklyn. I love the idea of you and Mary going to the library and then out for ice cream! I’d say about 80% of the books I “read” are unabridged audiobooks and digital books I check out from the library and read on Kindle or listen to on an iPod touch or Mp3 player. I’ve done that for years and can’t imagine living without them. Thanks for the book recommendation! I went straight to my local library website and looked for it but could not find it there. When I looked online I found it, plus two others with almost the same title by different authors. I guess there must be a lot of people who need that message, including me! I’m glad you were able to use your Knight costume again for such a noble purpose. You did OK without the tights since they aren’t mentioned in Ephesians, hee-hee. Let me know what you decide to do as a flower show alternative. Sometimes the things we make up as we go along turn out to be the most fun of all.

  6. MaryAnn Clontz

    Ah! Libraries! Such joy remembering stopping by the public library, walking on the way home from high school. I still am a reader, learning about other cultures through historical, romance fiction by Christian authors. Human nature remains the same, no matter how far back the dates are in the books. We can learn to “be” better, treat others with care & respect.

    • Mary Ann, you are so right. I think books have done so much to connect me to other people and places. Not only do we learn how alike people are, but we (or at least I) do not feel alone when we realize how many human experiences and emotions are pretty much universal. I’m so happy you were able to stop at a nearby library on your walks home from school. That must have brightened many a day and jump-started what you learned in classes. Can’t wait to see you SOON!

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Each day, I ask myself: “Is it April, yet?” Haha!

        • 😀 ❤ 😀 ❤ 😀

  7. Harry S

    God bless Sisters biological and other — Little wonder that she grew up to be an elementary school teacher, and I (you) became a librarian.


    • Thank you Harry. I don’t know what I’d do without my sister. For my entire life, she has been my most consistent source of support, friendship and FUN!

  8. Elena

    This is very interesting, Julia.
    I, too, was an unchaperoned reader.
    On the one hand I feel that, because of my almost-random choices, I wasted a lot of time with books that were not worthy of my attention, whereas I could have better spent my time with equally intriguing but more valuable ones.
    Now I wish my 9-year-old daughter exploited well her reading time so I suggest her books that are well written as well as entertaining; she mainly chooses her books herself, anyway, so I hope she reads quality books most time 😀
    By the way, we have some books at home which are definitely not suitable for such a young girl (e.g. Batman comic books) and I wonder what I should do about them…

    Back to the main topic: on the other hand, thanks to my almost random choices, I read many great books (imho) which I’d have never found if I had only listened to parents’ and teachers’ advice.
    My reading time is not so much as it used to be, I am demanding, picky, less brave and lately I have reread several novels instead of trying new authors. I suppose that going to a free library makes it easier to try new authors (one may loose time but not the money), especially for one, like me, who does not feel compelled to finish a “bad” novel, so the waste of time is less.
    Have a nice day 🙂

    • Elena, I so enjoyed reading this comment! It brought to mind many of my own dilemmas about reading. I tend to not want to abandon a book, and rarely do. I have only in recent years gotten pretty comfortable with putting down a book that offends me or does not interest me. The reason I’ve gotten better at it is just as you say– the lack of time, which requires that we be more choosy. I realized that even if I live many more years, there are only so many books I can read and I want to make the most of my reading time.

      Having said all of that, I still do read fairly randomly and perhaps I might have accomplished more in life if I had been choosier. I love to browse books (whether in a store, a library or at home) and just flip through them, sometimes reading just a poem or two here or there (I have a lot of literary anthologies) or maybe just skimming to see if I’m in the mood for a novel or nonfiction book or essay. Sometimes I will start a book and find it difficult, but there is a sense that there will be a payoff if I stick with it. My first experience with that sort of reward for effort was the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It was one of the first unabridged audiobooks I ever enjoyed, and I only listened to it because there was nothing else available. I was pleasantly surprised that once I got into the story, it was fascinating. I’ll never see whaling, or for that matter even a length of rope, in quite the same way.

      Re: books not suitable for your child — I may be unfamiliar with the state of current Batman or other comic books, or really any books for young people, but unless they were terribly violent, profane or obscene, I wouldn’t worry too much about locking them up, which might only create a sort of mystique about them. I’d certainly try to avoid anything really terrifying, though, especially for a child whose imagination is way too vivid. As good a writer as Stephen King is, I only read a few of his psychological suspense books and stay away from really scary stuff, even as an adult, because it makes me too nervous.

      As for quality, it is such a subjective thing. When I was young, Nancy Drew books were considered of inferior quality because they were mass-produced by a syndicate (there was no real-life Carolyn Keene) and our libraries would not stock them. But my friends and I swapped around our few bought copies and totally loved them. In recent years I’ve read of several well-known, accomplished women who said they read Nancy Drew when they were girls. I don’t know whether I might have achieved more if I’d stuck with the classics (which I also loved), but I guess I have no real regrets. Thanks for being here and sharing these interesting ideas with us!

      • Elena

        Thank you for your reply. I think you are right about locking up book. Now I should reread them to see how they really are because I don’t remember all the details. I did not really noticed if my readings could be suitable for any age, back then.
        I read a few Nancy Drew books when I was a kid and Isabella has read one, too 🙂 They may not be masterpieces but there is nothing wrong with them; sadly I have read worse novels for kids but let’s hope that I was really unlucky and those were rare exceptions.

        • You’re right, some of the books for children and young adults leave much to be desired. Since today’s young people have so many other distractions, it is more important than ever that they actually read good writing that encourages them to read more. Good luck with your daughter’s reading. I think parenting gets more challenging with each generation. Life today is difficult even for adults. I don’t know how children deal with some of the stuff they see and hear. But I guess people of my age always say such things!

  9. Mike Bertoglio

    I have to agree with you about Stephen KIng. I read a few of h is earlier works, but when I started pet Cemetary- that was the end for me. I did ;however, read the Stand, which was along one as I recall.

    • I didn’t ever try that one. I can’t recall which book I started that was so disgusting I put it down very early on– something I almost never do. I admire King’s writing ability, and I really thought Dolores Claiborne and Misery were good novels, and I also liked Needful Things, but horror is just not my thing.

  10. Mike Bertoglio

    I did get to see on one of our New York trips a copy of the Guttenberg Bible, under glass, at the NYC main library, It looker quite large-like 3by 2 feet. In Harlem my kids live close to the Aguilar library- a very old edifice across from the post office.

    • I haven’t seen the New York Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, but I have seen one of the surviving copies, probably at the Library of Congress, or maybe at the Bodleian Library. Yes it is HUGE but that’s partly because in those days it had to be; movable type could only be so small to be easily handled. I’ve never been very far into Harlem — only on the outskirts — but I bet it is a fascinating place.

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