Books and Libraries that Shaped Me

I still remember the moment I found the first Harry Potter book. It was in the library at my elementary school. The library was small, but it had a wide window on one side of the wall, allowing plenty of sunlight to penetrate. If I remember correctly, the first Harry Potter book that just came out at that time was introduced as one of the recommended books for elementary school students in the corner of the library right by the entrance. That’s when I saw the book for the first time.

Harry Potter captivated me right away from the first page until I had to stop for whatever reason. Whenever I opened the book again, it sucked me right into the story and the magical world. But the library always set the right tone and environment for me to travel into another world.

I always liked being in a library like many others: the smell of the old paper without any other scent, the air so still that time seems to stop, and the empty space that lets people explore the worlds within books instead of the physical reality we are in.

There are a few libraries of my childhood and youth that I still remember. Mostly because I went to libraries more frequently when I was little. I consumed books more hungrily than I did food. When I was about 5, my mom got me a set of children’s books that contained different short stories about animals, bugs, and sorts. I loved them so much that I felt nervous about finishing them all. New books and stories excited me. When my whole family went out to have dinner, I insisted on staying home alone to read those books.

My mom also got me a collection of biographies. I read the biographies of Helen Keller and Walt Disney over and over. Their stories gave me hope that I can do anything I dream of, no matter how challenging and hopeless it seems. By that age, I didn’t really know it would even be challenging to do and get what I want.

I fell in love with the Moomin books when I was 9. I was living in Seoul with my grandparents, mom, and my sister. My school library didn’t have the Moomin books, so I went to a different library that was operated by the city. It was a lot darker and quieter and I don’t remember seeing other people in the library. Most of the time it would be just myself in the library or my best friend or my sister. Exotic characters, names, and places from the book kept me coming back to the library to read those books. How different the stories about the peculiar troll family from Finland were from my own small world. I felt the loneliness and bohemian spirit of Snufkin, the freedom to be oneself from Little My, horror from Sniff’s story on a rainy night.

I also loved Le petit Nicolas, a famous children’s book series from France. I was shocked by how often French parents slapped their kids. I was as little as Nicolas but it was hilarious to me how Nicolas and his friends obliviously made the adults angry. Jean-Jacques Sempé still remains my hero and he always will.

These books and libraries affected and shaped little me without me realizing it. I still love libraries and there are great libraries in the states, but I don’t know why I don’t go there anymore. I read a lot fewer books than when I was a child. And it was a fun thing to do when I was a child, as there weren’t many places I could hang out. Also, I read books for fun, for my enjoyment. Nowadays I read books to study, to learn something. And I go to libraries when I need to work.

Reading books by need may be reducing our reading experience to explore and open new worlds. We get weary of reading books for just enjoyment because time is finite. Books certainly entertain us but there are many more exciting things in the world now.

But it’s too important to find joy again in reading. Realizing a world in your head, seeing visuals of a new world coming alive from texts, and traveling in it is what improve our ability to imagine. Imagining is the first step of creation. One day I want to have my own library full of paper and wood with a large window and I will travel to unknown places.


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