My Library Story: “The Happiest Place on Earth”

By James Magruder

Authors James Magruder

Every Saturday morning of my childhood, my mother would pile my two sisters and me into the station wagon to go to the public library, where we were allowed to check out ten books at a time. We had a tough time picking just ten. We’d often finish them all, our own and each other’s, by Wednesday and beg her to take us back after supper.

As a queer teen, the Wheaton Public Library in Wheaton, Illinois was where I indulged my first passion project–the Broadway Musical. I’d bike into town, then sit for hours at a table in by the arts section on the second floor, reading (and re-reading) the standard histories–both gossipy and scholarly–of the form and its most famous practitioners. Then head downstairs to the periodicals department, where I would fill out carbon slips for bound copies of Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, and The New Yorker so I could read the original reviews of all the shows I was learning about. I felt like a scholar. To date, it’s the only research I’ve ever carried out with a full heart and boundless enthusiasm.

I used to declare that I wanted to have my ashes stored in a hollowed-out copy of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and set on a shelf in my personal library, because a roomful of books–whether in Wheaton or Paris or the Pratt–had consistently been the happiest place on earth for me. I now know that my ashes will be laid to rest in Green Mount Cemetery among my husband’s family, but I can’t help but worry over the fate of my books.

Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall
by James Magruder

Join us for the Pratt’s Writers LIVE! event with James Magruder and Jen Michalski  on Tuesday, October 26 at 7pm. Follow the Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall  Author James Macgruder’s Library Journey. 

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