Hometown. In my mind, it is the place you experience those moments and encounters that are formative. Moments like the first day of school or rites of passage such as getting your driver’s license or going on a first date.

As a young library patron in Basking Ridge, N.J., Janet Dorman found herself drawn to folk tales and “stories of discoveries of things that could not be seen.”  Photo courtesy of Janet Dorman

My hometown was Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Settled in 1717 by Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers, the town got its peculiar name from the Leni Lenape tribe, who observed animals basking on the ridge in the sun. When my family moved to the town the small center was dominated by the Presbyterian church, a classical Greek Revival structure of red brick, fronted by white columns and wide steps. It was known as THE Church, and it was rumored that much of the town’s business was conducted on those steps after Sunday services. We were a Catholic family, so THE church was not a part of our lives.  Though most of my friends went there, and I was curious about what was inside, it was the building across the street that became THE place for me: The town library.

A brick and wood building whose smell of wax and old books enticed me in, it became an important destination in my young days, and I was thrilled with receiving a library card. I found myself drawn to books of folk tales, especially the Brothers Grimm. Tales of trolls and fairies, spells and potions, witches and maidens captured my young imagination. “The Frog King,” “Briar Rose,” “The Three Spinning Women,” “Rapunzel,” all tales that let me into a world of wonder and magic. It was a book I borrowed many times.

The other genre that appealed to me was science. “The Microbe Hunters” was one of my favorites.  Stories of discoveries of things that could not be seen. Leeuwenhoek and the first microscope through which he observed the small wonders in pond water. “Animalcules,” he named them. He peered into a drop of blood and discovered cells. Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Walter Reed, all discoverers of things that were invisible, but those discoveries changed science and saved lives.

These very different kinds of books influenced my reading as an adult. To this day I am still drawn to tales of fantasy and magic. “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Harry Potter” and, most recently, TJ Klune’s “The House in the Cerulean Sea.” All tales of fantasy and magic, but stories that encourage us to look around us and be open to the wonder that is often blocked by our preconceptions.

In the same way naturalists and scientists like Alan Lightman, Chet Raymo and E.O. Wilson, and poets like Mary Oliver, encourage me to look at the world and be amazed, to embrace the wonder and mystery that is before us, to open my eyes and see differently.

This way of looking at the world started with a library card in my hometown.

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