Dear Ms. Paper:
Libraries are strange places. They make me nervous. I see these towering shelves stuffed with books and think of how little I’ve read. My heart begins to pound. My palms get sweaty. And those librarians. They look to me like creatures of an underworld. Why do I feel this way? Is there something wrong with me?
Libraries are strange places. No doubt about that. The silence is oppressive and unnatural. The rows of books can sometimes make the room feel like a mind-bending maze. When there are high ceilings, it feels a bit vertiginous. When the windows are big and bright, the place feels exposed and sterile. If there are no windows, the room feels airless and dingy. The seats are hard, wooden, skeletal things. And dusty books are romantic only in fiction. In real life, they give you sneezing fits. And yes, libraries can have a crushingly humbling effect on readers. It can trigger insecurities about not having read enough.
There have also be rumors of books in libraries coming to life at night and getting up to no good. If you doubt me, read Helen Oyeyemi’s story titled “Books and Roses:”
A library at night is full of sounds: the unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their content, some boasting, some shy, some devious.
All of this is just to say that you are not alone. Now that we’ve come to the conclusion that libraries are questionable places, here is my advice to you: avoid libraries! Why do you need to go inside one any way? Buy books online and read them in the comfort of your couch.
One more thing. Why do you get worked up at the thought of not having read everything in the world? A multitude of books should not be a source of anxiety but a delight. It means you get to pick and choose from an expansive list of things and says nothing about how great a reader you are. Since there is a special place for readers in Heaven, there is time enough in the afterlife for you to read every book ever published. Until then, follow your taste and interests. Read what you want when you can. Encountering books should be a low-pressure kind of event, fun and titillating, not the cause of panic attacks.
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
#DearMsPaper is a fictional agony-aunt series that parodies readers, critics, and writers in the African literary scene. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address, send to [email protected].
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