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.