Anja Snellman


Petr F/Alamy


My Second Home

The Kallio Library in Helsinki celebrated its 110th anniversary at the beginning of October 2022.

Designed by Karl Hård af Segerstad, the library building was completed in 1912. Since then, the building has undergone three major renovations: after the war in the 1940s, in 1991, and most recently from June to the beginning of October 2022.

THE KALLIO LIBRARY has played a major role on Anja Snellman’s path to becoming a writer—so much so that she calls it her “second home.”

Her family lived next to the local library.

“Everyone in our slightly peculiar family loved reading, and the library was also my safe haven where I could escape whenever my father was having one of his drunken episodes,” Snellman says.

ANJA SNELLMAN started to devour books as soon as she learned to read at the age of four

At four, she was too young to be issued an official library card. One of the librarians cut out a round card from paperboard and wrote Anja’s name on it. Little Anja was given permission to borrow books with her customized library card.

“I treasured that card,” Snellman says. “It was my most valued possession.”

Mother never told me fairy tales—in her opinion, Babushka had woven enough confusing stories for my little mind. They constantly squabbled over what fabrications were appropriate and in the end nearly seized each other by the hair. I crawled under the table at the stage when they would switch to Russian and escalate each other into a rage.

But Mother was unswerving in her policy: at the library, she never borrowed the books I pestered her to bring home—no wonderful nature, no undersea worlds, no ancient animals in color.

“You will get an ordinary animal book, like everyone else,” she insisted.

Then she brought me a thin book with farm animals, pictures in diluted color, dogs cats pigs chickens. I cast a Royal-Bengal-tiger look at her and leafed through the modest number of pages, moping. Ayrshire. Finnish cattle. Aberdeen Angus.

And so I climbed the hill to our local library and requested a card. The first time stamp, the year of issuance in dark blue, made me feel solemn and important, as though I had been granted the opportunity to shake hands with the First Lady.

I wanted to learn about stone-building-sized dinos that once tramped around lettuce fields and about truck-sized lizard birds with leathery wings that fluttered around among giant horsetail plants.

I fell in love with fossils and armadillos, saber-toothed tigers and giraffes, mammoths and seahorses. I wanted to choose for myself. I wanted to know everything about scorpions.

From Sonia O. Was Here by Anja Snellman

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