25th Trillium Award

Leaving for the Library, with Evergreen-Award Nominee Eva Stachniak

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The Evergreen™ Award, a division of the Ontario Library Association's (OLA) Forest of Reading® program, is presented to outstanding books in Canadian fiction and non-fiction. Adult library patrons choose the winners from nominees selected by a committee of librarians.

It would be hard to find a writer who hasn't logged a good number of hours in the local library. Whether remembered as childhood havens or appreciated as the quiet workspace in a busy life, libraries still resonate in the hearts and imaginations of writers. Today 2013 Evergreen™ Award nominee Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace (Doubleday Canada), was asked to share a library or library experience that has been significant to her as a reader, or as a writer, at any point in her life.

By Eva Stachniak

Libraries have always been an essential part of my life. In the Poland of my childhood books were inexpensive, but the most popular ones disappeared from bookstores as soon as they arrived, and thus a library offered the best chance to get them. Libraries were plentiful, though ruled much more sternly than the Canadian libraries I use now. A librarian, even the most friendly one, was a custodian of vast, inaccessible bookshelves, a censor who might decide that a book I craved was “too serious” for me and refuse to let me take it home.

I remember with particular fondness the simple, one-room libraries in small towns where I spent my summer months, the long holidays of my childhood. I loved these libraries for they often had books that were difficult or impossible to get in the big city where I lived during the year. And — what was also extremely important — their less busy librarians were much more likely to indulge me.

One such small library stays in my mind, in a sleepy town in central Poland, Sulejów, where my grandmother used to take my brother and me for the summer. It was a pleasant town, but not a popular holiday destination, the kind of place of which people would inquire: “Won’t you get bored there?” We rented a room on the very outskirts of the town, close to the sandy river beach where we would go every day for a swim and a few hours of sun and fresh, pine-scented air. The library was in the town proper, three kilometers away, a journey I made on foot as soon as we arrived, to get my “temporary” library card and the first batch of books. Which books I chose was a serious matter, for every library had limits on the amount of books a reader could borrow, never enough for a girl who could not imagine her life without reading. If the books I chose were too thin, I might finish them on my way home, for reading and walking was a skill I’ve mastered early in life. To be safe I always went for the thickest books I could get, but even these didn’t last long enough and soon I would be back for more.

I remember the Sulejów library, its pine shelves filled with well-thumbed books. I remember the kind librarian, a young woman to whom I took an instant liking for she was reading a book when I walked in. And I still remember her smile and a lively nod when I asked my first anxious question: “Do you, perhaps, have Anne of Avonlea?” For this is when I knew that this summer would be wonderful, a summer of reading treasures. The library not only had Anne of Avonlea, but also had pre-war editions of Anne of the Island and other Anne books I had wanted to read ever since I met the red-haired orphan, and many more books from my must-read list. With each visit to the library the summer was getting better and better. After my second visit, a mere one day later, the friendly librarian allowed me to borrow books above the limit and I soon lost myself in the volumes of The Borrowers, and The Five Children and It. And when I ran out of books I knew I wanted to read the librarian recommended her own beloved reads, encouraging me to “taste” a new book right there, in the library, to make sure I’d like it and thus not “waste” my allotment of what I could take home.

Since then I have joined many libraries, far more imposing and richer, the libraries where I studied and did my research, but these long summers of reading books I found in unassuming local libraries are often in my thoughts. I remember how important it was to know that no matter where I am a library is not far away. That it is filled with books I can take home with me and that each of these books can hold a world of riches, a world perhaps weaved only from words on the page, but a world so vivid, that I can enter it and live there for as long as the book lasts.

And then reach for another.

Eva Stachniak was born in Wrocław, Poland, and came to Canada in 1981. She has been a radio broadcaster and college English and Humanities lecturer. Her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. Her latest novel, The Winter Palace, based on the early life of Catherine the Great, has been a bestseller in Canada, Poland and Germany. Eva Stachniak lives in Toronto. Her second historical novel about Catherine the Great, Empress of the Night, will be published in March of 2014. Visit her website at evastachniak.com.

For more information about The Winter Palace please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at the publisher, Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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