A World of Books And a World of Wonder

Saturdays were special. They were my favorite day because I got to do my favorite thing. On Saturdays, I left the house at 8:30 in the morning, scurried down 10 gray wooden steps, hitting the bottom tread with a thump.

I turned left at the end of my street, then another left onto Bedford Street, my penny loafers clicking in a steady unbroken rhythm for a mile.

I was flanked on both sides by a continuous row of stone-faced shops, none more than two stories high, and my gaze finally fixed on the Ferguson Library and the half-moon marble steps of its children's entrance on the east side of the building. I loved those crescent steps because they were my ''wardrobe'' in the attic - and the Ferguson was my Narnia.

At 9 a.m. exactly, the children's librarian opened the doors. The first thing I noticed was the aroma of paper, which smelled faintly like the wood it was made from. Or so I imagined. It was actually the smell of old books, as if they absorbed the scents of all the people who handled them.

When the doors shut behind me, the clattering footsteps, squealing brakes, and honking horns outside vanished. I was in my other world. Inside was a comforting quiet and a whispered reverence for the unbroken rule of silence in the library.

In my memory, the little postage-stamp-sized room was always sunny. Even on a rainy day, there was a certain brightness about the room. The thin brown carpet, which reminded me of a New England winter lawn, certainly didn't draw your focus away from what was the most important part of the room - the books.

They were everywhere - warming the cold steel shelves below window after window, in cases, lining rows in the middle of the room. Row after row of book spines peeked at me - some short, some tall, some skinny, and others fat. I wanted to devour them all. I loved everything about them: their scent; their weight in my hands; the red, green, brown, and blue covers in contrast with the black-and-white pages.

I opened each book I picked up, sniffed it, and let my fingertips gingerly glide over the pages; if I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the letters. I turned the pages slowly, anticipating the magic I would find. It was always there. Reading never let me down.

When I had my four-book limit - a limit, I might add, that I found stingy - I carried them to the librarian's desk and carefully placed them down by the ''Check out here'' sign. Digging into my pocket, I found the most treasured thing I owned - my library card.

It was a 2-by-3-in. piece of thick white paper with the library's name, my name, address, card number, and expiration date. It even had its own manila envelope that the card slid into. I took the responsibility of placing my card into its slipcover very seriously.

This was my ticket to the world - to life, people, and places that now belonged to me and that I could be a part of. Reading wasn't just learning, it was breathing, seeing, and touching. It was being alive.

As I look back, the glorious voyage that reading and those books gave me has never ended. I left the door to my ''wardrobe'' open so I could always return. The adventures are still there. So is the excitement, the mystery, the joy - and all the wonders of the world - every time I pick up a book.

Just think, it all started with those Saturday walks to the library.

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