In GOOD MORNING, MONSTER: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery, Catherine Gildiner takes us behind the closed doors of a therapist’s office as she shares five of her most memorable patients who worked through their emotional wounds. Today she joins us with a letter to librarians to share how the library system shaped her childhood and led to her career as a writer today.
My favourite institution in America is the public library system. Since 1731 when Benjamin Franklin founded the public library, it has been roaring along lending books to any American who has the desire to read and educate themselves. It is totally egalitarian. No one asks your religion, your income, your history, such as if you’re on parole. All you have to do is get a library card. I have used the library for over seventy years, and it has never ceased to make me proud that I’m an American.
I grew up in the small historical town of Lewiston, New York. I went to Catholic school and got sick of reading THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS. I was considered eccentric in the 1950s’ when that word was far less positive than it is now. In desperation after the nuns complained about my recalcitrance, my mother introduced me to the Public Library which was really an old house left over from the American revolution. The front door key was eight inches long, weighed several pounds and was made of wrought iron. The keyhole was so big it had to have a cover because it let in too much cold air.
I was shocked that at age seven I was given a card and could take home any book I wanted to read and astonishingly, unlike the Catholic school, I could choose the books I wanted to read. I could walk to the library alone, use my card and make my own book selection. It was one of those moments we all remember because that library card was one of the first steps toward adult independence.
I spent an enormous amount of time in the “young people’s room.” However, when I was nine, after I finished all the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drews, I was despondent. I thought there were no more books in the world for me to read. I wondered what I’d do with the rest of my life. Always vocal in my complaints, thus the eccentricity label, I told the librarian I’d read all there was and now faced a bleak life. The librarian, Mrs. Canavan, always helpful, treated me like an adult. She asked my taste. I was amazed I could have taste and that anyone would care to inquire about mine. After an elaborate discussion of my taste, she suggested non-fiction, which I thought was an oxymoron. She suggested THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. I loved it more than any book I’d ever read but was so shocked that she was murdered in the end, I complained yet again to the librarian. I noted the library had four copies of the book, so I asked for the copy where Anne did not die in the end.
Then the librarian introduced me to biographies of famous people. The first I read was Clara Barton, the nurse who founded the Red Cross. All I wanted for Christmas was a navy cape like hers so I could jump off the back of ambulances to help wounded soldiers.
The most important book I ever read was LITTLE WOMEN. It was about a family of sisters who find their way into adulthood. One sister, Jo, refuses to marry and have a family. All she wants is to become a writer and she heads off to New York City and gets published. This book changed my life because that was my secret ambition, but I had no idea that anyone else had ever had it. From then on, I saw myself as a writer and never looked back.
I grew up and wrote several books and last year at the age of seventy-three, I went back to Lewiston, to speak at the library about my latest book, GOOD MORNING, MONSTER: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery. During the question-and-answer period a teenager asked me how I became a writer. I said it happened to me right here at the Lewiston Library.