In this piece, Writer, Poet and 805 contributer M. P. Armstrong finds nourishment and comfort in the available books from her temporarily closing local library and in the old favorties of her personal library. This post is part of 805's "My Home Library" blog that features essays by writers who are sheltering in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. 805 is proudly published by the Manatee County Public Library System. We hope this blog will help Manatee County residents show off their home libraries, find comfort in books, and feel a connection to the library during this difficult time.
"I think we should stop at the Giant Eagle here," my dad says, navigating our borrowed SUV off the highway and into the shopping center parking lot, the soundtrack of the governor's voice droning in the background. "By the time we get back home, the crowds will have already wiped ours out."
I silently nod, still picturing the newly blank walls of my dorm room and the eerie silence of my college campus as it slowly emptied out--a stark contrast to the grocery store, growing more packed by the minute as frantic families who've just learned that their children will be home for three meals a day and couples who clearly decided that they're going to learn to bake bread are already filling their carts with dozens of rolls of toilet paper and bags of flour.
We join the crowds and pull boxes of cereal, jars of peanut butter, and cartons of crackers from the shelves. Line our reusable totes with the containers and stack the totes carefully in the trunk of the car. Decide whether we have enough for the next few weeks, just in case Ohio reaches the near-total lockdown level of places like Italy or Washington.
A few days later, an email arrives from my local library: "All Warren-Trumbull County Public Library locations will be CLOSED beginning Tues., March 17 and continuing through at least Sun., April 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic." And much like when my university abruptly announced its closure, my family leaps into action. We scour our Goodreads accounts, cross-reference with the online library catalog, and create lists: which library branch has which book, sections, call numbers, pages and pages because "at least Sun., April 5" does not inspire confidence. Especially not when you've read the Imperial College Report.
The library is still busy when we arrive. It seems we weren't the only ones with this idea. I press against the shelves, deliberately avoiding all the other patrons as I pull books off the shelves in a parallel of our grocery store trip. A supply of stories matters just as much as a supply of snacks.
The librarian at the front desk is wearing plastic gloves and a mask as he checks us out our stacks. The grand total: 92. 92 novels--mysteries, fantasies, from realism to science fiction--and nonfiction reads: our own branch of the library, in tall piles in our sunroom.
Of course, my home library extends far beyond that stockpile. I also have my desk drawers, where my textbooks live. Online, daily poetry newsletters and literary journals continue publishing. But at first, I can't find the room in my heart or my mind--both overloaded with the emotions and information that have been flooding me for weeks--for new characters, let alone new plotlines filled with twists and uncertainties. There have been enough of those in real life lately. So I venture into the bookshelves in my bedroom, where my old favorites provide comforting returns to familiar settings, friendly faces, and endings I already know.
Literature has always been a source of comfort for me, and many of the works that helped me through tough times before are again helping me now. It’s Cleve Jones’s memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, which once assured me that I wasn’t alone as I was coming into my identity as a young queer person and now reminds me of exactly how I felt in my dorm on my last night at my university: “I drank the champagne and danced and wondered how many of us would be alive next year.” It’s every young adult dystopian novel that I first read in middle school--Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Uglies--where the world seems as though it’s ending, but no matter what, the brave young protagonist manages to save it. And it’s William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” which hangs above my desk and inspires me every day with lines like these:
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.”
We don’t know when this will end, or what the world will look like on the other side. But we do know the present, this moment in which we have libraries--and thus, we have endless stories, opportunities to escape, to feel validated, or to feel joy and courage and creativity. And that’s how we know we’ll be okay.
M.P. Armstrong is a queer poet from Warren, Ohio, studying English and history at Kent State University. Their work appears or is forthcoming in many publications, including Luna Negra, Brainchild, and Red Earth Review. They also serve as managing editor and reporter for both Curtain Call and Fusion magazines. In their spare time, they enjoy traveling, board games, and brightly colored blazers. Find them online @mpawrites and at mpawrites.wixsite.com/website.