A Mid-summer Night’s Book

While the weather finally seems to be deciding it will cooperate somewhat and behave in a more seasonable fashion, few could credibly argue with the assertion that Summer 2013 was slow to dart out of its starting blocks.

With most area schools having closed their doors three weeks ago, it’s about time school-age kids can begin hanging out aimlessly in parks and yards, make it through an entire baseball, softball or soccer game without a rain delay or thunderstorm threat, or just go for a bike ride without shrugging on a sweatshirt.

One activity, however, that never suffers from a rain-out is reading. Reading has been one of my favorite pastimes since early childhood. Even when outdoor games with neighborhood friends beckoned on endless summer evenings or the Spring Lake Park swimming pool was my preferred hangout for hours upon hours in the lengthy June and July afternoons of my youth, the chance to stay up late at night with a good read was still one of the best parts of being out of school for three months.

I often carried a tall glass of ice water up the stairs to my bedroom, which was on the upper floor of our story-and-a-half house and featured sloped ceilings and two windows–one at either end of the long room. Perched in my bed with a fan earnestly attempting to blow cool air my way in that sometimes stifling space, I’d sip from my sweating glass with one hot lamp illuminating my book until a parent yelled from below, “It’s time for you to go to sleep, Jane!” or “Get that light out NOW,” or I finally was too sleepy or it really was very late; I reluctantly put down the book and closed my eyes.

Riding my bike to the library in North Mankato–near the site of the current North Mankato Taylor Library–was a highlight for me when I was in third and fourth grade. The thrill of stocking up with a stack of new, unread books that held so much promise of adventure–not to mention returning the several books I’d read and receiving coveted stamps from the librarian on my summer reading bookmark–is a feeling I can easily recall to this day. Even a nasty spill when my bike pedal collided with the curb, scattering my books on the steaming pavement and leaving me with badly skinned knees and hands, did not deter me in my quest for more reading material.

Inspired by Maud Hart Lovelace’s heroine Betsy Ray, who at age 12 (in “Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown”) determined she wanted to read EVERY book in the Deep Valley/Mankato Carnegie Library–and in alphabetical order, no less–I thought it was a fine idea to try to do the same on my side of the Minnesota River. Suffice to say I didn’t make it, but I do have a greater awareness of authors whose last names start with A to about I than those whose names unfortunately begin with letters from the latter part of the alphabet.

One author I got hooked on was Alfred Hitchcock. I loved mysteries, especially in my younger days, and a quick click on the computer tells me now that Hitchcock has 342 books listed on Goodreads alone. Titles like “A Light in the Attic,” “The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot” and “The Secret of Terror Castle” both intrigued and frightened me; Agatha Christie’s novels, as well as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, provided similar delights. Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot,” however, scared me so much that I distinctly remember hanging a cross in each of my windows for a period of time and waking from vivid nightmares about vampires for at least two weeks.

The Nobles County Library provides great summer opportunities  and incentives in June and July for kids from preschool age all the way through eighth grade. Wednesday from 10-11 a.m. are for preschoolers through kindergartners, while 1-2 p.m. is for first and second graders; Tuesday from 1-2:30 p.m. is when fifth through eighth graders meet, and Thursday from 1-2:30 p.m. is the time for third through fifth graders. Of course, books, magazines and other items that feed imaginations of all ages are available for checkout during the library’s regular hours, whether it feels like summer or not.

Maybe there’s a kid out there who can fulfill my abandoned dream of reading all the books on the shelves before summer officially ends. My advice? Go for it!

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