Being a bookworm
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Being a bookworm

What it’s like to go back to the library

Ms. Kook stands at the Teaneck library’s reserve section, near the sign in memory of Helen Brueckheimer.
Ms. Kook stands at the Teaneck library’s reserve section, near the sign in memory of Helen Brueckheimer.

When you look back over the recent Jewish holiday season, you may have experienced some funny things that happened on the way to your own forums.

I did.

As I completed my early-morning shopping for the seemingly zillionth time over the holidays, waiting in a long line of dazed and tired shoppers, I finally reached the cashier.

“Credit or cash?” she asked, without looking up at me.

I handed over my card, but the cashier didn’t process it. Instead, she gave me a strange look, and shook her head. No.

Card rejection is not fun. It’s embarrassing. Especially when there’s a line of ready-to-pay customers observing this unfolding hiccup and getting antsier by the minute. My first thought was, “Take a deep breath. I must be overdrawn from all the shopping from the last few weeks.” Fishing through my purse, which was filled with crumpled up grocery store receipts, I was about to retrieve my checkbook when she handed the card back to me.

It was my library card.

I was so relieved! I wanted to turn and assure the line that I actually could pay for these groceries. But the stone-faced cashier was clearly getting impatient while waiting for me to cough up the right credit card that would get me out of there, pronto.

There’s only a small window of time for politeness and civility while you are on a checkout line, especially the morning before a holiday. “Next,” she said, before I even put my card away.

Without a doubt, I was bleary-eyed from the holiday cycle of shopping, cooking, and shopping again. But as a self-professed bookworm, my library card is my go-to in the motley stack of cards in my wallet.

I love libraries. I always did, even as a child. During the pandemic, libraries were among the things I missed most. Like many other bookworms, I ordered books online, but the process just didn’t have the same thrill. It usually took days or even weeks to receive them.

Then libraries finally opened.. Actually, it’s not just about the books. It’s also about the quiet and peacefulness intrinsic to libraries, an oasis that refuses to become trendy and cool. When you enter, cell phones are turned off and stay off. People speak in hushed and lovely tones. Appealing to all the senses, libraries offer the cedar and slightly mildewy scent of older books, and the crisp feel of newer ones.

Kind-faced librarians research books for you, offering to put the desired ones on reserve. When the books are available, they send notifications by email. Most exciting are the little paper notices they place in the books, keeping tabs on how much money you’ve saved by using the library.

So far, I’ve saved $465 this past year. It’s a heady feeling, akin to buying something too expensive when it’s on sale, but it’s better. Way better.

My own library is the Teaneck Public Library, which is centrally located near the Teaneck Municipal Building, just a few minutes from my home. When I drive into the parking lot, I’m always struck by the quaintness of the architecture, which reminds me of the colonial style of New England structures.

People are always milling in and about, walking with stacks of books held close to their chests. At the front desk there is a section for books on reserve, and above it there’s a sign that’s especially poignant. It says, “Dedicated with love, in memory of Helen Brueckheimer, by her bookworm family.”

Helen Brueckheimer, of blessed memory, was a much beloved math teacher at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus for many years. She also was very literary and loved to read and to discuss different genres of books. Helen and I taught in different areas of the school, but we would catch up in the teachers’ room. One day at lunchtime, as we were discussing books, we spoke about our favorite genres, and I told her my preference was historical fiction.

“Have you ever read anything by Kristin Hannah?” she asked. I hadn’t, and she highly recommended her books, many of which are historical fiction. Helen, of course, was right. Since then, Ms. Hannah has become one of my favorite authors.

Helen’s daughter, Tzippy Waltuch, shared thoughts about her mother’s love for the library. “My mother made an Olympic sport out of reserving books,” she said. “She found out months in advance that a favorite author had a new book coming out, and then she would reserve the book even before the library even owned it, just so she could be the first one on the list. Librarians would ask her about new books coming out, and other patrons knew the pleasure my mother had in being the first on a book’s reserve list.”

Interestingly, when I asked Tzippy if her mother ever taught any language arts classes, she replied, “She never taught language arts, only math and Judaic studies. She read for relaxation, and mostly on Shabbat.”

There’s another memorable quote under the sign in the Teaneck library. It says, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel as if you have lost a friend.”

What’s more delicious to bookworms than getting lost in the pages and never wanting the story to end? There are books that I’ve reread over and over because they’ve resonated with me so deeply. Then there are books I buy because I want to have them in my own library. Those are the ones that I enjoy sharing with my bookworm friends, and in turn, they share their favorites with me.

I’m trying to encourage and develop little bookworms in my own family, too. The other day, I loaded a shopping bag with picture books from the library for my grandchildren, who were visiting with me. It’s important to introduce children to many different types of books. Like adults, they will prefer some more than others, and that’s fine.

When they say, “Grandma, I don’t like this book,” I just dig into my Mary Poppins bag for another one. Eventually, we find picture books we all love. Some we even reread, because they’re so good and so appealing.

Bookworms come in all sizes and ages. And there’s really no worm like a bookworm. Still, there are few pleasures in life that are free. This one is. All you have to do is get a library card, and that is a ticket into whole other worlds.

Just please remember not to give your library card to the cashier at the grocery store.

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a learning specialist at Yavneh Academy in Paramus and a writer.

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