By December 11, 2009 2 Comments Read More →

Walking in Nostalgia Wonderland, Pt. 2

In my last post, I wrote about the nostalgia that permeates the air this time of year and how crucial reading memories are for us bookfolk. I encouraged you to hunker down in that nostalgia and roll around in it at your next meeting by asking participants to recount nostalgic memories that they associate with books. Today, examples are in order, so indulge me in a longish personal essay.

I could cite little nostalgic epiphanies from any of my reading interests (and boy would you be sorry then!) but I’ll pick one: my favorite genre, fantasy. I’m not the sort of person who gushes over dragons and unicorns or goes to ren fairs and ponders which sword to add to my collection. If you saw me on the street, you’d probably never guess I’m a big fantasy geek, but the genre is dear to me.

Perhaps the proudest moment of my life occurred in kindergarten. Dear Mrs. Warner, with her unblinking eyes and slow-moving ways, was so impressed with my reading abilities (don’t laugh: when I was a kid, reading in kindergarten was a big deal) that she asked me to read the Wizard of Oz aloud to my picture-book-at-best classmates. It was my favorite book, and that pint-size rock star moment cemented my love for L. Frank and his cohorts forever.

A few years later, I had a private fantasy moment (naughty!), late one night in my bed (even naughtier!) I was reading another of the Oz books with a flashlight under the covers long after I was supposed to be asleep, when I stumbled across the Cowardly Lion describing some timid children as “namby-pambies.” This was a new word to me, and for some reason, my overstimulated little mind found it HI-larious. As I choked on laughter, an indelible memory formed. It’s a strange moment to call up as the symbol of illicit pleasure and delight (and possibly a pathetic commentary on my idea of a great time), but it still makes my face flush and a smile rise when I think of it.

In junior high, my group of friends discovered the pleasures of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. We had no conscious inkling of Lewis’s religious symbolism. What we liked was the idea of believing in the possibility of something fantastic, of that passage lurking at the back of the proverbial wardrobe. The imaginary in books can be very real, sometimes more tangible than the stuff we deem “realistic.” I formed a society called the Narnian Believers, abbreviated  in our slang to “NBs.” It took serious geek peer pressure, but slowly I convinced friend after friend to confess that he or she too was an NB. I’m still a charter member, and consider it a good test of friendship and compatibility to this day.

Later, young adulthood and college led me down the mistaken path many readers follow. I got the silly impression that books had to be “useful” or “important,” at the very least difficult, to be worth my time. I spent years pretending to like books that were impossible to read with real joy. My career path followed, growing ever more practical and unhappy. That’s when I decided to go back to school at UNC and get my library degree. In my second semester there, I took a wonderful course on popular literature from Dr. Barbara Moran, and decided to re-read The Lord of the Rings Devouring Tolkien’s trilogy in a few days, I re-discovered an important part of my reading identity. I knew that I wanted to work with books like this forever, that public libraries were the place for me. It’s a hobbit’s career, small and insulated, but I make a difference in the world.

I’ve been happy ever since, and in a way, I owe it all to book nostalgia. The peace those memories bring can take the edge off even this hectic time of year.

Indulge your own book memories, preferrably with friends like those in your book group, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the season. And if you’re not an NB, I still think you’re a bit of a namby-pamby.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Walking in Nostalgia Wonderland, Pt. 2"

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  1. Mary Burkey says:

    What a great post! I’m sure many librarians & book lovers recognized their parallel lives in your reminisces. Substitute Charlotte’s Web for Wizard of Oz, and Louisa May Alcott/Dickens for the Narnia club, and you’re singing my song 😉

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