When I was in eighth grade, I saw a movie trailer for The Name of the Rose (based on the book by Umberto Eco). Filled with images of monks and castles, my D&D addled brain thought it looked kinda cool, so I went to my school library and spent some time looking through the card catalog (this was the mid-eighties). When I came up dry, I went to the librarian and asked if he knew where I could get a copy.
The librarian was a quirky guy with glasses and a mustache, and I remember him more for telling us to quiet down, and scowling whenever we goofed off in the library, so I was a little intimidated to make the request, but I did anyway.
He looked at me curiously, and after a moment said (without smiling), “We don’t have it here, but I have a copy at home. I’ll bring it in for you tomorrow.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time (although it felt kind of awkward). The next day he handed it to me, and I was off reading.
It was a tough read.
I mean, it was way above my grade level, and I remember the prose was thick in some spots, but I plugged away, some nights only managing a couple of pages before I had to put it down again. I don’t remember why it was tough, but I wanted to keep at it.
The librarian never bugged me about it, and after what must have been a few months, I finally finished it and returned it to him. He asked, a little more cheerily than usual, what I thought of it. I commented on some of the cooler parts, and I seem to remember him nodding without saying anything more of it.
I look back on that, thirty-five years later, and am in awe of what a favor he did for me.
He lent out his personal property and took a gamble that a kid might learn something, grow somehow, get some iota better. I mean, sure, at worst, I might have ruined the book, or just never returned it, and he’d have been out the cost of the book, but the gamble he took was greater. Had he just denied me, it wouldn’t have cost him anything, but it would have cost me much.
See, The Name of the Rose is one of those books that I still reflect on, decades later. Its themes ranged from mystery and tension to sin, remorse, condemnation, irreverence, and truth. I still extract little lessons from it every time I recall one scene or another, and as usual, the book had so much more rich detail than the movie. In hindsight, I was glad for all the nights it took for me to slog through it.
That librarian did me a tremendous favor, one I’m sure he didn’t even realize at the time. Or maybe he did, and that’s why he took the risk in the first place. Every librarian I know is excited to introduce us to new books, to fuel that fire of learning we’re all capable of, in whatever degree. I’m grateful for that favor, for the accelerant he added to my learning fire.
As I read stories to my daughters at bedtime, I intend to pass that on. I hope they’re inspired to keep reading, to challenge their boundaries, to keep growing. And I hope they’re just as inspired to pass it on.