Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Library Series: A Truant in the Stacks by Laura Ellen Scott

It's the last Friday of July and the fifth week 
of the Summer Library Series wherein authors 
share their experiences at the library when they 
were growing up.  

Please welcome this week's author, fiction writer 
Laura Ellen Scott, who skipped school in order 
to roam the Kent State Library in Kent, Ohio.


by Laura Ellen Scott

. . . “Oh for Christ’s sake, 
she went to the God-damned library!”

When I was eleven, I noticed all the other girls were lined up to borrow nurse-themed romances from our school library. I’m not sure how Brimfield Elementary had amassed such a collection, but I did my best to join the literary conversation. I started to talk up a cool book about Squanto that I’d just read, and the other girls literally turned away from me. I think that was the moment when I realized I was in the right place, but maybe they weren’t.

Kent State University Library
Flash forward to my sophomore year in high school. I had already accrued the maximum number of unexcused absences (fifteen) when on the sixteenth morning I waved the school bus driver on and walked away. You’re not supposed to do that, especially not in front of a busload of other kids. My mother was called in for a heated conference with the principal that concluded with Mom yelling, “Oh for Christ’s sake, she went to the God-damned library!”

And that was true. Each of those days I bailed on school was spent at Kent State University’s twelve-floor library. I had no idea Mom knew.

The problem was the library. It was a four-mile walk from my house. To be honest, I don’t understand how anyone could go to school with a library like that one so close. My high school was full of mean, unimaginative people. The college library was full of books, and not just nurse romances, either. It also offered something really new: OCLC terminals. My first contact with computers. OCLC used to stand for Ohio College Library Center before it turned into Online Computer Library Center. This meant that not only could I play in the KSU library, I also had access to a network of libraries. And I felt a lot more at ease in a room of hairy-nosed scholars than I did with the kids from my hometown. (However, I can’t pretend I was doing hard-core research. Back then I was probably looking up tidbits about Kyoto, gorillas, and Laurence Olivier.)

Untitled  Rachel Kertz
Used with photographer's permission
My mother’s argument was probably misunderstood, and it was definitely unsuccessful. Suspended, I spent three days in a featureless room adjacent to the principal’s office with actual bad kids who taught me how to open locked doors with a laminated card. When the suspension was over, Mom and I worked out a way that I could graduate a year early and get to college that much sooner. Her tacit support of my truancy probably looked like careless parenting from the outside, but in reality it was a calculated risk.


Laura Ellen Scott
Laura Ellen Scott writes, lives, and teaches in Fairfax, Virginia and is the author of two books, her story collection Curio (Uncanny Valley Press, 2011) and her novel, a comic fantasy, Death Wishing (Ig publishing, 2011). Her stories can be found in a number of literary journals such as Barrelhouse, The Mississippi Review, Storyglossia and Staccato. She is presently working on her next novel, Willie July and the Mystery House. 

To find her books at your library, check out or ask your librarian. 

Check out next week's author, TJ Beitelman, 
who writes about a discarded library book 
that he didn't know was discarded.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Library Series: The Library That Delivered by Dan Powell

Welcome back for the fourth installment of the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think. This week's reflection is by fiction writer, Dan Powell, and his exploration of books via the library bus that drove into the village of Colwich, in Staffordshire, England.  Enjoy!
by Dan Powell

I imagined fleets of buses carrying books 
to-and-fro across the whole country, 
delivering books to every town, to every street. 
I thought every library arrived on wheels, 
with a heave of diesel fumes and hiss of brakes.

"A Lancet in Disguise"   Claire Pendrous,
Used with photographer's permission
The library appeared every couple of weeks. Between the end of lunchtime play when the teachers rang handbells to herd us back into class and 3pm when the doors of the school would re-open and we’d pour out onto the playground and spill out the gates, it would materialise in the playground of Colwich School like The Doctor’s Tardis. Like the Tardis it had the power to take its passengers to any place, to any time, and, again like the Tardis, the books, with whole worlds squeezed between their covers, were somehow bigger on the inside. I always knew when it was coming, yet I never saw it arrive.

For three hours, one day out of every sixty or so, the converted Dennis bus squatted in the corner of the playground where the walls of the Junior building met the railings, the word LIBRARY emblazoned along the side in jaunty green capitals bigger than my head and below that the promise of Books and Information. I was eight years old when I first stepped through the bus’s concertina doors and until the age of thirteen it would be the only library I knew. Inside floor to ceiling shelves filled the space, the clean smell of wood polish and new books fighting and failing to smother the musty aroma of the older titles.

The replacing of cards into covers and the returning of borrower’s tickets took time. No computers then, no bard-coded or magnetized library cards to speed the flow, just a index tray stuffed with the cards from inside the books and the borrowers’ tickets into which the cards were slid. Queuing to return my books, I’d look over the librarian's desk and imagine taking the huge steering wheel behind, driving away with what seemed, to my adolescent eyes, like all the books I might ever need.  But I didn’t need to steal the books, given enough time I could simply borrow each and every one. Each of the three child tickets allowed someone my age had the power to take me somewhere beyond the railings of my little school, somewhere beyond the boundaries of the village streets I roamed with friends. I borrowed adventure novels, true-life mysteries, science fiction, science fact, histories and guide books. The little bus, each visit, delivered on its promise. It gave me books and information and so much besides.

I do not remember the names of any of the driver librarians who checked out the books on the bus, who listened patiently to my enquiries, who ordered in the books I pestered for. If I could I would thank them for delivering so much of the world into my eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen year old hands. It was because of them that I learned what kinetic energy was well before it was required of me in school. It was because of them I discovered Treasure Island and joined The Secret Seven and survived The Day of the Triffids. When I had to return two warped and swollen books, damaged in a downpour that flooded my tent while at Cub camp, and I worried they would make me pay for the damage, or worse, revoke my membership, they merely smiled and checked the books back in.

For almost five years this little bus in a little playground of a sleepy Staffordshire village was what I thought all libraries were like. I imagined fleets of buses carrying books to-and-fro across the whole country, delivering books to every town, to every street. I thought every library arrived on wheels, with a heave of diesel fumes and hiss of brakes. Even now, as dazzling as they can be, with their acres of shelving and seemingly limitless stock, I find bricks and mortar libraries somehow lacking. However impressive they might be, for my eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen year old self, they do not deliver. In both senses of the word.

Colwich was too small a village for a branch library in the mid-1980s and it still is today. The library van continues to attend to the reading needs of the community, stopping every three weeks outside the primary school, delivering Books and Information to the community. I haven't been back since my family moved out of the area in the late eighties. My return to the library van is long overdue.


Dan Powell is a fiction writer who lives, writes, and raises a family in Germany. His stories have appeared in a number of anthologies as well as literary journals such as Spilling Ink Review, Staccato, and Metzen. Most recently, his story "Half-Mown Lawn," was published in the 2012 edition of The Best British Stories (Salt Publishing), and was also the winner of the 2010 Yeovil Prize. To stay updated with Powell's work, check out his Facebook page or website.

Please join What She Might Think next Friday for 
"A Truant in the Library" by Laura Ellen Scott.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Library Series: A Kind of Beacon by Jack Kaulfus

Welcome to this week's installment of the Summer Library Series in which professional authors reflect on their childhood experience with their local library.  Today's author is Jack Kaulfus, who hails from Texas and had a library card at the Seguin-Guadalupe County Library.


by Jack Kaulfus

Guadalupe County Library in the early ‘90s 
was not a hot destination for young folks, 
but it smelled good inside, and the air 
conditioning was icy.

I fell in love with The Library Man over the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. He was tall and lean and sensitive, and he had some longish hair and a choker under his button- down shirt. He was a new librarian, probably in his early 20s, and he was married. He wasn’t from my small town. 

Seguin-Guadalupe County Public Library
I was always doing this in high school – becoming infatuated with older, disinterested feminine men who might want to talk to me about books or music. It was good practice for later, when I’d become more appropriately obsessed with older, disinterested butch women who might want to talk to me about books or music.

I had only the vaguest idea about what I wanted from the The Library Man. My friends believed I was in love with him, and I didn’t discourage them. It was much safer to cop to an impossible crush than to come out as queer. It didn’t seem a simple case of puppy love to me, however. I knew he was married. I knew I didn’t want to sleep with him. But I also knew I wanted to be in the library with him every Monday, Thursday, and Friday afternoon when he was working.

The year before had been particularly frustrating, and in the spring I’d decided to quit basketball (after many long years of promising athletic training and early promotion to the varsity team) to join the school paper instead. I had also clawed my way into some honors and AP classes for the next year, but it took work to convince the counselor that I could handle being in classes with kids who didn’t throw chairs. I wasn’t sure if I was going to succeed, as I’d been consistently dumb-tracked since third grade when I got myself kicked off the gifted and talented program’s shortbus, but I knew I needed to try.

Guadalupe County Library in the early ‘90s was not a hot destination for young folks, but it smelled good inside, and the air conditioning was icy. I’d bike there in the heat of the afternoon to sit at a table and gaze at The Library Man over stacks of books I wanted to understand but couldn’t.

"Find Love at the Library"    Marya Figueroa,
Used with photographer's permission
Our relationship was all business. We rarely exchanged more than a few sentences over the counter as I checked out books. He might ask: “Writing a paper?” Or say: “Gotta love Hegel.” To which I’d respond in a weak affirmative. The truth was, I had no idea what I was doing, but I didn’t know how to tell him that. I’d burned through the books in the children’s and young adult section at least twice, and I felt ready for the next big thing. In one stack, I might have Hume, Plato, Feynman, and Hawking. Three days later, I might want to take Browning, Carlyle, Euclid, and Kafka home. At night I’d struggle through a few pages of each dusty tome and then give up.

I know now that I wanted him to help me shed my years of depressing small-town athletic obsession and usher me into a world governed by reason and elegant sentence structure rather than point-spread. At the time, however, I’d watch his lovely dark hair and slender hands as he labeled shelf-talkers and joked with his cohorts behind the check-out counter. I’d puzzle over whether I wanted to kiss him or buy him a coffee somewhere the cups didn’t have a HOT BEVERAGE warning label.

I drifted in a sea of possibility all summer, hoping I’d come to light on a shelf with something that made sense. The books themselves could be deceitful. The only book on homosexuality in the place was a parenting book for unfortunate dads in the fifties who happened to have effeminate sons. There were cartoons depicting ways to shame your fairy boy into hating himself and lists of “tough love” redirection techniques. There were two books on modern art, and neither of them offered color plates. A book on Apartheid was consistently mishelved in “African American History.”

I don’t know if The Library Man was really all that. He had, after all, taken a job in a town long dead from sheer lack of curiosity. If I’d been able to formulate the question I needed him to answer, he might have laughed at me or led me to a shelf of Encyclopedias or something. He was a kind of beacon, though, that reassured me of the possibility of connections I could only dream of understanding. Just his presence was a comfort. I wish I could thank him now, but I don’t even remember his name.


Jack Kaulfus lives, writes, and teaches in Austin, Texas. Their story "Troglodytes" was selected as one of the top 100 stories published in 2006 (StorySouth). Their most recent story, "The End of Objects," was honored by A Cappella Zoo with the Apo Specimen award. They are currently shopping around a book of stories entitled, The Answer Is Please

             Please return next Friday for Dan Powell's reflections on 
the mobile library in Colwich in Staffordshire, England.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer Library Series: Buildings and the Love of Books by Matthew C. Brennan

All summer at What She Might Think, poets and fiction writers are sharing their childhood experiences at the library.  Today's reflection is the second in the series, and comes from poet Matthew Brennan who first checked out books at the Rock Hill public library.



by Matthew C. Brennan

. . .it was the literary equivalent 
of a fast-food drive-up—
you’d find your books 
quickly, then bolt.  

I was five when my family moved to Rock Hill, Missouri, a municipality that shared the zip code of the larger, more plush St. Louis suburb, Webster Groves.  Rock Hill, a fifth or sixth the size of Webster, had no pool, no parks, no ball fields other than those that doubled as schoolyards, so we had to cross the border to go swimming or have a picnic.  But Rock Hill did have its own library, and my mother took us there regularly.  

Matthew Brennan and
his Mother, Suzanne, 1955
My memory fogs in trying to call up the original building, but I still clearly see the newer construction put up when I was about eight.  Like most new public buildings in the Sixties, it lacked style and warmth.  In fact, it shared its quarters with the police, I think, the stacks occupying the second floor, Rock Hill’s finest the ground floor.  The fa├žade was functional, an orange-ish, speckled cement and Tang-colored brick.  Inside, little light fell from the few narrow windows.  

It wasn’t a place that made you want to loiter; it was the literary equivalent of a fast-food drive-up—you’d find your books quickly, then bolt.  At this time I fell in love with baseball and baseball led to the children’s sports books by Matthew Christopher.  Slide, Danny, Slide and other classics fed my promiscuous lust for baseball in any form.  What I didn’t realize then is that these books also made me love reading itself. 
Later, we spent more time at the Webster Groves library, which like its parks and pools, were accessible to Rock Hillians.  It may have been a Carnegie library, for its exterior boasted a set of columns on its front portico and colonial red brick that would now make me think of Jefferson; the interior, with high ceilings and ornate windows, instilled in readers a lofty imagination.

 Copenhagen Harbor by Suzanne Brennan

But today when I think of books and childhood it’s the small Rock Hill library that springs to mind, though what most endears it to me now is that, in those summers of rushing in and out of the cramped lobby, it displayed on its scarce wall space some of my mother’s oil paintings, paintings now lost to history, like the library itself, which some time ago gave way to a single square room in a strip mall—but not before it humbly and almost forgettably fostered my love of reading books and the libraries that house them.


Matthew C. Brennan lives, teaches, and writes in Terre Haute, Indiana. He is the author of three scholarly books regarding the Romantic tradition and its literature, and he is the author of four books of poetry, The Music of Exile (Cloverdale Books, 1994),  The Sea-Crossing of Saint Brendan (Birch Brook Press, 2008), The House with the Mansard Roof (Backwaters Press, 2009), and The Light of Common Day (Finishing Line Press, 2011). His newest work is Dana Gioia: A Critical Introduction (Story Line Press, 2012).

To find out if your local library has books by Matthew C. Brennan, click here or visit


Please join What She Might Think next Friday for fiction writer, Jack Kaulfus. Also check out the first installment of the library series, by humorist, Owen Egerton.