Reading, Libraries and Female Protagonists or Self Censorship

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Self Censorship - I Like to Read about Girls

Reading through the Ages

When I describe myself as a reader, it should probably be “I am a READER.” I read a lot, every day, every week, every month, every year. When I find an author I enjoy, I tend to try to read all of those books, in order of publication if possible. My elemenatary school had nearly an entire shelf of books by Joan Aiken including The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, which my 4th grader teacher read aloud. It scared me silly.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Joan Aiken's imagery is tremendous. It took me a while to read all her books in the Cedar Hill Elementary School library. There are still books of hers I have not yet read. In addition to a shelf of Aiken and a shelf of Estes, there was a section of children's biographies in that library, an odd rust/orange color with medium blue blocks. Dolly Madison, Betsy Ross, Marie Curie and Babe Zaharias were some of my favorites. Don't misunderstand, I read Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, various scientists, and athletes, but I read the women first. By the middle of 5th grade, I had read most of the fiction books and certainly all those with girls in the starring role. I identified with the stories about Molly Pitcher and Tempe Wick and just wished there were more.

Growing up in a very small town in New Jersey, I could walk to the small book store in the center of the village. My allowance ran to a paperback book a month, when they cost less than a dollar. Another block north was the library where the books were free. The following photographs were scanned respectively from proofs of pages 34 and 30 of June O. Kennedy's book, A History of The Library in Basking Ridge. These proofs were made available by Karen Vaias, Supervising Reference Librarian of the Bernards Township Library on Maple Avenue with permission from June O. Kennedy. Never underestimate the power of a reference librarian. They can move mountains.

A History of The Library in Basking Ridge by June O. Kennedy.

Basking Ridge Library inside view

Every shelf in that library, formerly a house at 2 North Finley Avenue, was packed with books. I could check out those books until I finished everything interesting on a specific shelf. Pretty much I went through the fiction, shelf by shelf. The shelves were so full, you could hardly get your hands on the books to pull them out. I don’t remember a special young adult section, I was too busy in the adult fiction section. I also don't remember a librarian censoring any book I found and brought to the check out desk. Certainly my parents did not. I read voraciously and was bound only by the weight of the books I wanted to carry home. Backpacks were not standard issue then and the library was a bit more than a mile from my house. It was a wonderful place. I read tons of books in the G and H section, which was just at the right height for me on the mezzanine to the right of the break into the next floor with wonderful wraparound bookcases. Serendipity led me to discover Janice Holt Giles and Georgette Heyer. Giles was the author of The Kentuckians and The Believers. One of my friend's mom was reading The Believers one day when I was over. One of her seven kids fell in the creek in the back chasing a cat and came in dripping wet, and she kept right on reading. I wanted to read that book for certain.

Voyage To Santa Fe by Janice Holt Giles

Georgette Heyer on the other hand, had a shelf and a half of books, maybe forty. I had to check those out to see what she had to say.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Even then I was probably unconsciously watching for Henritze authors. When the new library was built on South Maple Avenue, it had tons more room, a place to park, the sections were defined, shelving was variable and very probably there was a young adult section. By then, I didn’t care, I was off to college with multiple and bigger libraries and the memory of that fabulous old library stuffed to the rafters with books.

As a young adult I worked in the oil field in the Appalachian Basin. Oftentimes I needed to change from jeans and work boots into corporate attire and attend meetings. Unlike the men, I did not just add a sports coat hanging from a hook in my car. Like Clark Kent, I needed to change outfits. Unlike Clark, I did not use a phone booth, I stopped in at whatever local library was close and available. In addition to being way cleaner than a service station restroom, there was the benefit of checking to see what books they had which I had not read. New, old, adult or children's books, mostly fiction, I read books across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Pretty soon, I started edging into the history and local history sections and all those biographies. Still self censorship at the ready, I didn't read things that were graphically violent or would scare me silly and in many ways that left out the entire mystery section. Not until the mid 1990s, did I read adult mysteries. I had read the Encyclopedia Brown books as a young child and then some of the Nancy Drew books, but never graduated to adult mysteries. Now I have read hundreds, but I still shy away from the books with sociopathic killers. Miss Marple and the cozies are more my mystery style.

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Ida Sherwood Bettis is my paternal grand mother. Aunt Clara is my great aunt. I can remember every nooks and crany of that house and yard...

Eric Bettis Eric Bettis 25. July, 2017 |

I would be happy to forward your name, connection, and email if you wish.

Barbara K. Henritze Barbara K. Henritze 06. November, 2016 |

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