My Husband, the Book Thief

Mar 6, 2015 by

My Husband, the Book Thief

I married my husband Steve in 1980, and moved to Charlevoix, his hometown. The day after we returned from our honeymoon, I told Steve we were going someplace special. “Where?” he asked. “The library,” I said. “I need to sign up for a library card.” Steve balked. “I’m not going,” he told me. I couldn’t understand. Steve is an avid reader, and devours books faster than I do. “Why not?” I persisted. “What have you got against the library?”

To me, a public library is the most special, wonderful place in the world. From the time I was a little girl, and my mother signed me up at the Toledo Inside the Charlevoix LibraryPublic Library for my very own library card, I knew I’d found a home. Free books! What’s not to love about a place that lets you take home all the books you want, read them, and bring them back for more? Years later, when we moved north, I immediately joined the Petoskey Public Library, where I graduated from the Children’s section into Young Adult, and finally the Adult section. Through the years, the Petoskey Public Library was the place where I hung out. My mother was on the Library Board, and I loved having ‘insider knowledge‘ as to new releases, upcoming author appearances, and more. I dreamed of someday having one of my very own books on the library shelf. It was a fantasy in the making… I’d grow up, become an author, and write books that other people would find in the library and take home to read.

Fast forward to 1980, and Steve’s refusal to visit the library. I couldn’t understand why he was so adamant. I went by myself, signed up for my library card, and took home some books. Weeks passed, but I kept after Steve. “Why won’t you go to the library?” I nagged. Finally one day, he gave up. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m too embarrassed. Besides, I owe them lots of money. ”

overdueHe owed money? “When I was in college, I borrowed a book,” Steve explained. “I forgot to return it by its due date. Then they started sending me notices. One thing led to another, and I never took it back.” I stared at him. “How long ago was this?” I finally asked. “Nine years ago,” he admitted. “I don’t even want to think about how much the fine must be by now. Probably a couple hundred dollars, if not more.”

Poor Steve. All these years, terrified to return a book simply because of a library fine. “Do you still have it?” I asked. Steve nodded and went to one of the living room shelves where he pulled out a thick book on the life of Andrew Jackson. I grabbed the book, my car keys, and said, “Let’s go.”

A reluctant Steve followed me to the car. Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of Jean (one of the friendly librarians who has since retired). Steve, red-faced, stood in silence as I explained the situation. “He thinks he might owe hundreds of dollars,” I explained. Jean merely laughed. “How about paying a quarter, and we’ll call it even,” she suggested. “After all these years, we’re just glad to have the book back.”

It was a win-win situation. The library book was back where it belonged, my husband no longer had a guilty conscience, and both of us had plenty of books in our arms when we walked out the door an hour later. Since that day nearly 35 years ago, the Charlevoix Public Library has been a welcoming place for our family. Steve often spends hours in the Adult Reading Room (the very same room where he and his brother were Kindergarten students). When I browse the shelves of the Adult Fiction section, I can’t help but think about our daughter Abby, who once shot hoops in that very space while playing basketball for her middle school girl’s team. Abby’s grown up now, and when she comes home for a visit with her 5 yr. old twin boys, a trip to the Charlevoix Library is always a ‘must-do‘ on their bucket list. Ryan and Desmond love the children’s rooms, with all the hands-on features, books, activities, and the outside musical garden.

Charlevoix Library ShelfAnd as for that lifelong dream I once had, of having my own books on the library shelf? My newest novel The Other Wife is currently shelved with the New Releases. My other five novels can be found in the stacks, under “P” for Paterka… the same shelf as James Patterson and one of my favorite women’s fiction authors, Jodi Picoult.

What does the Charlevoix Public Library mean to our family? That’s easy. I can sum it up in one word: HOME.

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  1. Aww…I really loved this blog post. And that’s why libraries are such friendly places. A quarter? All they were happy about was having their baby back. And, now to have your own books there! What a happy ending:)

    • Kathleen Irene Paterka

      Julie, I love libraries too. The Charlevoix Public Library is such a wonderful place. The building was originally built as a school and opened in 1927. It was converted into a public library in 2006. The library is a gem for our community, and a treasure trove with all the books and other resources it contains. We are blessed to have these things available to us… and for FREE. You’re right: it is a happy ending!