There is no frigate like a book

In New York City history, The Virgin Cure, the writing life by ami4 Comments


The Carnegie Library in Lebanon, Indiana

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

– Emily Dickinson

Libraries hold a special place in my heart. The public library in my hometown of Lebanon, Indiana was the place I spent most Saturday mornings as a child. My mom would drop me off on her way to do her grocery shopping, and by the time she returned, I’d have a stack of books piled high on the librarian’s desk, ready to bring home.

The children’s section, with its giant, 1970’s coloured floor pillows was where I first discovered the power of words. Sinking into the orange corduroy softness of my favourite pillow, I’d soon be transported to another place and time – a secret garden, the land of Oz, a boat race in Central Park (where I’d cheer with every page turn for a spunky mouse named Stuart.) Reading was nothing short of magic.

(And yes, it’s true…another kind of magic happened there for me as well. I had my first kiss in the reference section of the Lebanon Public Library at the tender age of twelve.) Just thinking of the Dewey Decimal classes still makes me blush.

In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting libraries near and far, sometimes as a guest speaker, but more often as a writer who can’t seem to stop chasing after stories from the past. While writing The Birth House I read through countless historical volumes and documents at libraries and archives throughout Nova Scotia. Then, while writing The Virgin Cure I took several trips to New York where I’d spend entire days at the New-York Historical Society Library, lost between the pages of 1870’s newspapers and guidebooks.

Now that 2012 has arrived, I find I’m chasing after a new tale that’s already got me rushing back to the stacks and to my desk. For the time being, my Canadian book tour is finished, and I’m happily falling back into the world of words. A million thanks in advance to all the librarians I’ll be asking for help as I chase this story down, one call number at a time.

Have you thanked a librarian lately?

little me...about the time I started making Saturday trips to the library.

Here’s a window into my world of libraries, research, and family ties, that might be of interest.

I was recently featured on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter with the wonderful Shelagh Rogers. It was lovely to chat with her and discuss the history and the research process behind The Virgin Cure. The interview is now online and includes big shout outs to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the New-York Historical Society Library! If you missed it on air, you can read more about my chat with Shelagh, and listen to the interview at CBC Radio.

 “I like to think that she was a rebel. She cared very deeply about the social problems of the time, she cared about the huge gap that existed between the wealthy and the poor…She made a choice to go in a direction that by and large most women wouldn’t have even thought of taking on.” – Ami McKay on Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh, her great-great grandmother (and the inspiration behind The Virgin Cure.)



  1. Julie

    This brings back memories of my own love affair with libraries. Every Saturday morning, bright and early, I would hop on my bike and pedal off to my local library for a day spent in amongst all those wonderful books. I still vividly remember the first time I signed an adult book out of the library – it was ‘Yentl the Yeshiva Boy’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer – I will never forget the thrill I felt as I handed the book over to the librarian to be signed out. Such a simple little act, yet I felt far more mature and grown-up because of it. And now, 30 years and thousands of books later, that memory is one of my most cherished from my childhood. Libraries are still the most magical place in the world for me – thank you for reminding me!

  2. Author

    What a wonderful memory, Julie! Thanks so much for sharing it. I hope others will share their thoughts on what libraries mean to them, as well. I’m proud to say my ten-year-old son has found his way to the library system via the county bookmobile. A library on a bus, what could be better?!

  3. Cat

    I grew up in small town British Columbia, up in the mountains
    the library was a good way to get out of the house…who knew I would end up coming home with stacks of books every Saturday to read in the wee hours of the morning
    that time was very private for me, I was very social and had a busy social and sports life…but reading was something I did solo and loved it. I can still remember the feeling of bringing books back to the drop box and looking forward to replenishing my stack
    any room or building that houses books is a good place to me
    : )

    Love and Light

  4. Donna

    I remember you when you were that little. I also remember spending a lot of time at the same library. It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by. I want to make it up North one of these days so we can spend some time catching up. I’m so very proud of your achievements Ami!

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