SUE BARTON, LADADOG
AND THE BLACK
25 April 2002
The public library was a short distance from my grammar school and perhaps a mile from
my home (up hill, both ways, in the snow...). It was my favorite place to be
during my early years. I remember the thrill of getting my first library card, and how
grown up I felt. It was manilla colored and about 3x5" in size. When you checked out
a book, the librarian would stamp the date on the card. As the weeks passed, the stamped
date list grew longer. It was a mark of achievement when you had to turn in the old card
and get a new one.
It wasn't a large library. The librarian desk was in the center. Off to the left were
the adult books (I don't mean x-rated, I mean adult-level books), with shelves circling
around making a horseshoe shape. Off to the right was the kids' section. The magazines and
easiest/youngest level books were on the left and then circling around through various
categories and over to the "teen books" on the far right of the horseshoe.
As I aged, the place in the horseshoe where I began my search for the six books I would
carry home to read each day would move farther to the right, as my reading/comprehension
I was a sucker for animal books. Especially horse and dog books. Yes, I was that
stereotypical pre-adolescent girl who was mad about horses, even though I lived smack dab
in the middle of a concrete covered city and almost never saw a horse in person.
It was Stephen who introduced me to horse books, and it was The Black Stallion,
the first in the Walter Farley series. My sophistication with respect to books at that
early age was so nonexistent that when I read the list of Farley's books on the back
cover, I noted that all of them were horse stories except "Random House." I
didn't realize Random House was the publisher.
But I absolutely soaked up the tales of Alec Ramsey and his shipwreck on a deserted
island with The Black, taming the wild stallion and bringing him home to a small paddock
in the borroughs of New York, and through all the rest of the books and his racing career
and the subsequent offspring of The Black.
I was not wedded only to the Black. There were the books of Dorothy Lyons--Dark
Sunshine, Silver Birch, Midnight Moon (in fact, when I got my first bike--a dark blue used
bike we found advertised in the newspaper, I named it "Midnight Moon" and called
it "Moony" for short.)
But my favorite books were probably the dog books. We lived in a small flat in San
Francisco and my sister was allergic to animal hair, so we were not able to have pets. I
lived vicariously through the people who bonded with their animals in books. In
particular, I devoured the stories of Albert Peyson Terhune and longed for my own
"Lad." (The closest I ever came was a sheltie my cousin gave me once.) My
favorite stories were all about collies, but I remember loving a book called
"Bonnie's Boy," about a cocker spaniel, and a few other dog books here and
(There were also the "real people" stories--things like "The Five Little
Peppers" books, the "Bobbsey Twins" and Nancy Drew.)
I spent time each week, browsing the shelves looking for books I had not yet read. One
of my most embarrassing moments came at the library. If there was a restroom there, I was
not aware of it, and the building was a long way from the closest gas station. I still
remember standing there one day, the urine trickling down my leg, forming a small pool
under my feet, while I casually walked away, pretending not to notice and hoping nobody
else realized that I was peeing on the library floor.
There came a time when I moved away from the animal books and got hooked on
"career type" books. There was a whole section of the library devoted to
schlocky stories about women in various careers--I remember one about a woman pilot and
another about someone who took door to door surveys (if you can imagine an entire plot
revolving around that!). I loved the nurse books. Sue Barton was my favorite (though I
also read a bit of Cherry Ames). I followed Sue through nursing school, social work, and
other adventures, through to having a famiy and working as a nurse in her husband's
practice. (Ironic that I'm now working for physicians!) I once dreamed of being a nurse,
before I realized that the "ick factor" would probably keep me from actually
pursuing that interest.
I developed an interest in historical fiction, which was in short supply on the kids'
side. It was a big step, the first day I started to look through the books on the adult
side. (I still remember that the first "adult book" I took out was about Thomas
The library was such a central part of my growing up years that I still marvel that I
haven't been inside a library in years. I guess it's because I'm so busy that it takes me
forever to get through a book (I've been reading David Gerrold's latest book,
"Leaping to the Stars," the third book in a series that includes my very
favorite Gerrold character: "Bev Sykes," the lesbian partner of the hero's
mother. It is taking me forever to get through this book because I only read it when I'm
walking on the treadmill in the morning. By the same token, I read Rosie O'Donnell's
excellent book, "Find Me" in a matter of hours last week.).
Another thing that keeps me out of libraries (and in hock) is that oh-too-easy
"one-click" button on Amazon.com.
Whether library or store-bought, the stacks and stacks and overflowing bookcases around
here show a real love of books, and a frustration with not having nearly the time
available to just wallow in them.