Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Four Libraries by Michael Martone

It's fitting that on the fourth Friday of the Summer Library Series, that writer Michael Martone brings us the stories of four libraries.  From Montana to Michigan to Delaware, we somehow missed the middle, and so today's reflection tours the Hoosier State, Indiana.  Enjoy!


Four Libraries
by Michael Martone

Little Turtle Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana. From library website.
The Little Turtle Library, Fort Wayne

See! See me read! Look! Look at me read! Here, the words became words. Still, years later, when I am sleepy, when I have read too much the wordness of a word will evaporate.  The “the” will no long have that the-ness. Has that happened to you? The letters that long ago at the Little Turtle Library snapped to attention will go all soft and stange, will refuse in my brain to mean. Strange.  I will  have that sense memory of what it must have been like, years ago, when the letters of the “the” inflated meaning to be meant. Mother read to me from the primers whose author, I just now learned, was from Indiana like me. Zerna Sharp, of Hillisburg, imagined Dick and Jane. “See, See,” my mother said, and I saw.

From, used under CC license
The Saint Francis College Library, Fort Wayne

We would walk there from our house on Spring Street, Mother and I.  Both of us carrying bags of our books.  Mother was completing her Masters, whatever that was.  A freshman high school English teacher, she would let me “cut” my grade school classes, go with her to Central High downtown.  At the big library tables there, I listened to her tell the stories of giants in Greek Mythology to her students.  I sank into the giant library chairs.  The library at the college, housed in the massive Richardsonian Romanesque Bass Mansion, was once the summer home of the metal foundry owner.  Turrets, cupolas, towers, gothic arches, tiled roofs, porte-cochères, stained glass, spiral stairs, balconies.  The walls were loafs of stone like the sugar-cubed walls of the Troy my mother’s students made for the Odyssey unit, then left behind for me to collect. The books, the books were crammed everywhere. There were nooks and crannies, and the nooks and crannies were everywhere. Books stacked on the built-in oak shelves. Stacks of stacks.  I see now that it was probably all that odd distorted perception of childhood, but the library that housed books seemed to be a house built of books. Furnished by books. Chairs of books.  Desks of books.  Stairways of books.  So many books the books seemed to be built out of books.

Irwin Library, photograph by Richie Diesterheft, used under CC license
The Irwin Library, Butler University, Indianapolis

On the basement floor, I leaned and loafed at my ease observing the stacks and stacks of poetry.  I discovered William Carlos Williams whose book I think I selected for the primer-like insistence of the name of its author.  Inside, I discovered that his poems too echoed Dick and Jane, so much depending on white chickens, on red wheelbarrows. Listen:

munching a plum on

the street a paper bag 

of them in her hand 
They taste good to her

They taste good

to her. They taste

good to her…
The Medical Library, Jordan Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington

I went there to write.  The reading room was empty and ornate, the famous limestone beveled into spines that looked like bindings.  I knew I had a vasovagal response, a syncope usually triggered by the sight of blood but for me it was the sound of Latinate words describing blood or the body.  So “blood” would not floor me but “hemorrhage” would. Contusion. Laceration. The word “Syncope” would cause me to faint.  As a writer I wanted to write words that would act on the viscera of the reader.  Move the reader.  Take the breath away. Words to make the reader light-headed, dizzy, down for the count. I would wander the stacks between the sentences I constructed (the abstract concoctions that I hoped to make concrete), find an ancient worn tome of dissection, an anatomy richly marbled with the magic Latin and crack it open.  I read just a snippet, enough to be surprised, be delighted, my blood pressure plummeting, knocked over by the wordy words. 


Michael Martone has always had the name Michael Martone, from the time he was born in Fort Wayne, to the publication of his most recent book of fictions, Four for a Quarter.  His other, very many books include The Blue Guide to Indiana, Michael Martone, Racing in Place, The Flatness and Other Landscapes, Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List. He is the editor of a number of titles, including the fiction anthology Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fictions from the FlyoverMartone teaches writing at University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa and is the recipient of a number of awards, including The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award.  For a more detailed biography, see his faculty bio here.

This piece was originally prepared for the Indianapolis Library.