The freedom to choose: finding the right book

By: Vicky Coffin

Vicky Coffin, librarian

I love walking into libraries and book stores—I am like a kid in a candy shop.  I just know that if I explore enough, I will find at least one book miraculously placed on the shelf just for me.   It could be a novel about vampires or witches; it could be a pop-up picture book that I can share with my kids; it could be a manual on home repair full of instructions my husband and I need to fix the leaking kitchen faucet.  In every scenario, there is one common theme:  the freedom to choose.  I can make the choice to escape my reality for a while, spend quality time with my family and friends, or educate and empower myself, all with just a book.

I did not always feel this way; when I was younger, reading felt like a chore.  I equated reading with homework and drudgery.  It seemed like a waste of time to read about events that happened in the distant past when I should be out in the real world living my life.  I could not relate to many of the characters in books that are now considered classics; Tom Sawyer, Hamlet, and Madame Bovary were all so foreign to me.   Not only did I not understand why the characters behaved the way they did, but I didn’t really care, either.

When I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, something changed.  I hated Heathcliff and Cathy—they were both cruel, tortured souls.  So, why did I care what happened to them?  When I truly opened my mind and heart to the author’s words, I realized that these flawed characters were capable of sharing a perfect, deep love.  It was not the fairy tale kind of love with happy endings and noble sacrifices—it was messy and passionate and all the more real to me for its honesty.  And that is what hooked me—that I could get lost for a while in these other realities—that I could step back from my own life to problem-solve, reason, or even fantasize with all of the time in the world.  If I needed to, I could simply shut the book and walk away.  But I am nearly always compelled to crack that book open again after some time of reflection.

Now that I am a parent, I find it compelling to share my love of literature with my children.  I have favorite stories that I think they will enjoy, but I’m always surprised how a book I picked up on a whim ends up being one of their new favorites.  They always love to guess what will happen next, and we have the chance to talk about the rights and wrongs of the world through a story.  I am also amazed at the factual information they absorb about their favorite subjects.  My seven year-old told me today that the spot on Jupiter was most likely caused by a comet—that is news to me!

I cannot deny that I, too, love to learn new things from books authored by experts in all different subject matter.  Parenting books filled with information about pediatric care helped me at 2:00 a.m. on many occasions when my kids were sick; my knowledge of installing flooring, cement board, tiles, fixtures, and even renovating a complete kitchen has expanded exponentially with the help of many how-to books; and of course, the textbooks I visually consumed during my studies in librarianship have led me down a career path that gives me much personal fulfillment.  I am very fortunate to spend each day at my job helping others find just the right book—for research or just for pleasure.

And that is truly the key—finding the right book.  One book can light a fire under you—make you question the world and seek out the answers—allow you the opportunity to ponder your own choices and your perceptions of others.  In the world of reading and literature, you are given an opportunity that no one can take away—the freedom to choose where your thoughts will take you next.  Get lost in a good book, and just maybe you will be found.

Vicky Coffin has worked at both public and academic libraries during her career as a librarian.  For the past seven years, she has worked as a Reference Lecturer at the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University where she is also the primary collection builder for the library’s popular Leisure Reading Collection.     


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