Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Library Series: From Branch to Main and Back by David Hadbawnik

It's the end of the second month but not the end of the summer, and so the Summer Library Series continues here at What She Might Think. Every Friday, authors have been sharing their childhood experiences at the public library.  This week's author is poet David Hadbawnik whose life as a reader and writer has unfolded in libraries across the country.

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FROM BRANCH TO MAIN AND BACK
by David Hadbawnik


The aisles were an isle of solitude, a place to get away from my 
self and get in touch with a deeper Self. 


Like so many other nascent readers, I have my mother to thank for first taking me to the library. We were quite young, my sister and I, when we rode in the car to Warren Public Library, a few miles from our home in suburban Detroit. The small, nondescript building nevertheless had all the charms of the local branch, most notably a generous children’s section, with a dedicated librarian who taught us how to use it, and tiny tables with tiny chairs for our little bodies. And at that time, of course, everything was searched by card catalogue; I still remember the pleasure and mystery of sliding open those long, narrow drawers, leafing through the cards 'til I found the author I wanted, inevitably finding something else along the way.

The first books I discovered were Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey—though of course, I wasn’treading Greek, let alone an “adult” translation, but a version for young adults. From that time, I was hooked, and a trip to the library meant a further excursion into the world of Judy Blume, or The Great Brain, or Madeleine L'Engle and her great series starting with A Wrinkle in Time. I was a sci-fi and fantasy nut, but I also craved anything with a good story in it, anything that was honest and painful and true.

Most of  all—this will ring a bell with just about every lifelong reader and writer—the library was a place to be alone. With books. Aisle upon aisle of good-smelling books, with names and titles blazing out from their spines. The aisles were an isle of solitude, a place to get away from my self and get in touch with a deeper Self. Just running my finger along the spines was like touching a tuning fork that made my own spine vibrate.

Not that I had a difficult or “troubled” childhood—far from it; mine was a normal suburban household, middle class, stable, solid. If anything, it was too normal, too quiet. The library was a place to find out about things like wet dreams, bloody noses, what happened to kids who were left on their own or abused; what it felt like to fall in love so hard it hurt to the core of one’s being; suffering and triumph, magic and despair. As I came out of the confusion of puberty and middle school, the library again became a sanctuary as I discovered the books and authors that would inspire me to pursue journalism and creative writing myself—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, a return to classical and medieval folklore and legend.

San Francisco Main Library, photograph by David Yuused under CC license
In fact, I must credit the library with my eventually “putting it all together” as a mature writer, though I was scarcely aware of achieving creative equilibrium at the time. My haunting of libraries in great cities—first Detroit, during my undergraduate years at Wayne State; later Chicago, New York, and most of all San Francisco—has always been a way of finding my bearings, getting back in touch with the rhythm of solitude and language. Being in a main library, with its many levels and millions of books and separate intensities of hundreds of people, somehow feels like being in the very heart of a city, whose dangers and noises and romance continue to thrum just outside that stillness. When I first moved to San Francisco, I spent many hours in the library, browsing, working, dreaming. It was there I got serious about scribbling in the little notebooks I’d always carried around with me, which eventually formed the raw material of my first published work. And it was there I found the books that showed me the final bit of the way, such as Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World and Franz Kafka’s Notebooks.

Some of my love of the library was tarnished a bit when I eventually worked there, taking a job as a page at a couple of branches in San Francisco. I spent hours pushing around that metal cart, shelving books, dealing with unruly patrons, and wiping my hands off from the grime on the books in the children’s section, the same section I’d cut my teeth in many years ago. But sometimes I’d find the sweet spot of that old rhythm. Alone in an aisle, I’d light on a new book in an unfamiliar section, and have that old feeling once again.

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David Hadbawnik

David Hadbawnik lives and writes in Buffalo, NY where he runs Habenicht Press, the literary journal Kadar Koli, and the Buffalo Poets Theatre. Hadbawnik is the author of these books of poetry SF Spleen (Skanky Possum Press, 2006), Ovid in Exile (Interbirth Books, 2007), Translations from Creeley (Sardines Press, 2008), and Fieldwork: Notes, Songs, and Poems 1997-2010 (BlazeVox, 2011).

To find books by Hadbawnik at your local library, check out worldcat.org, or click here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer Library Series: Library as Locus by Heather Anastasiu

This week's edition of the Summer Library Series comes from Heather Anastasiu who grew up attending the Buda, Texas public library and, like many children of small-town libraries, found herself leaving the children's section early to mingle among the adult books.  With their scent of past and page, and the columns of date-due stamps, the physicality of the books themselves led her into imaginative explorations.  

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LIBRARY AS LOCUS
by Heather Anastasiu

I’d  . . . try to imagine all the other people 
who’d held the same book in their hands.

Public Library, Buda, Texas
The Buda Public Library stands out as a landmark of my childhood for reasons more than just my love for books. It was this great building right in the center of Main Street, within walking distance of my elementary school and my church. I’d often walk the couple blocks to the library and have my mom pick me up there if I had to stay late after school or for church choir practice. There was a gazebo off to the side that I’d sit in while I read or journaled or just sat thinking about things while I waited. Annual outdoor town fairs were held in the strip of land between Main Street and the railroad tracks, with the library as the locus. I sang carols at Christmas with my choir there and played the piccolo in my marching band as we’d parade down Main Street right past the library.



Photo by Calsidyrose, 
used under CC license
Then, of course, there was the glorious insides of the building. Growing up, especially in the long summers, I often spent more time with books than I did with people. I can remember walking through the few stacks they had and running my fingers over the spines of the books on the shelves, one by one. They didn’t have a very big kids book section, so I was reading all the Mary Higgins Clark and Robin Cook and Danielle Steel novels they had.

I liked how cold it was inside the library, a safe haven from the Texas summer. I liked the way the books smelled. That library gave me a great love for the physicality of books—the worn spines, the sometimes coffee-stained pages, the feel of the paper between my fingers. I’d pull out the little check-out cards in front of the book and look at the dates stamped on it and try to imagine all the other people who’d held the same book in their hands.

That love for the feel and smell of books stays with me still. In fact, when I got a finished copy of my debut novel in the mail last week, one of the first things I did was crack it open and inhale.


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Heather Anastasiu

Heather Anastasiu lives with her husband and son in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she is at work on a fantasy trilogy for young adults. The first novel in the trilogy, Glitch (St. Martins-Griffin, 2012), debuted this month.  Anastasiu is currently on her online book tour. 

Check out Worldcat.org to find out whether your local library has works by Anastasiu.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Library Series: All Sorts of Freedom by Juliet E. McKenna

Last week's library post came from Dublin writer and editor John Kenny, and this week What She Might Think is staying abroad though one country over with English fantasy writer Juliet McKenna.

McKenna was not only a frequent visitor of the library but also a voracious reader to boot and, thankfully, one with an excellent memory of what she read.  Please enjoy McKenna's library reflection.
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CHILDHOOD IN THE LIBRARY:
ALL SORTS OF FREEDOM
by Juliet E. McKenna


I’d tell my mum I was going to the library 
and she felt no need to accompany me.
Photograph by Mike Smith, used under CC license
This is the local branch public library in Parkstone where I would go on Saturday mornings, or after school on a weekday. Strictly speaking it’s in Ashley Cross, adjacent to Lower Parkstone and some way from Upper Parkstone which is closer to Branksome. These are all now suburbs of Poole, a harbour town itself largely subsumed into Bournemouth on England’s south coast.

Once upon a time, these villages each had their own amenities. As a kid I didn’t know that this building was originally a fire station. I just knew it was old, half-timbered, with uneven floors and unexpected steps and nooks inside. The heavy double door in the other face of that tower is framed by elegantly carved stone. For a child with a vivid imagination first inspired and thereafter nurtured by books, what better library?

In the mid-Seventies, some village mentality endured. Most local shops were family businesses and whether through ignorance or innocence, by age ten, children like me went out and about pretty much unsupervised. I’d tell my mum I was going to the library and she felt no need to accompany me. She knew I would use the pedestrian crossings for the busiest roads and it was traffic, not child-snatchers, which concerned parents. So I could go whenever I liked and browse for as long as I wanted.

Enid Blyton is one of 
the most famous children's
authors in England. It is a rare
adult who didn't read Blyton as 
a child.
What I read was up to me. This wasn’t the school library with its teacher-approved selection or English class limiting me to the latest books in the reading scheme. I could read Enid Blyton’s undemanding and implausible tales of the Famous Five and Secret Seven or classic children’s literature like Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, depending on how I felt. I could tackle adult classics in abridged versions of Dickens, Dumas and other authors not beginning with D, or I would read new books by Leon Garfield and Diana Wynne Jones with gleaming plastic covering their dust jackets and crisp, clean pages within. They’d sit alongside decades-old boarding-school stories by authors long since forgotten, with fraying cloth binding and loose stitching. I read those as well.

I could re-read a book for the twentieth time for the comfort of familiarity. I could read something I was supposed to have long outgrown, like BB’s books about a badger and a hedgehog living on a canal boat and striving to outwit a gang of rascally cats. If my mood was looking forward to the whole mysterious business of growing up, I could read Monica Edwards’ books about overlapping groups of teenagers living in Romney Marsh and in Surrey; contemporary stories involving far more plausible, and thus more convincingly hazardous escapades than anything the Adventurous Four got up to. This was long before anyone thought of labelling books as ‘YA’ and putting them on their own shelves.

I might come home with some of R J Unstead’s interesting and engagingly illustrated books on the history of Britain and beyond (okay, mostly the British Empire). I could scare myself at bedtime with the Pan Book of Witches or the Pan Book of Giants, only two of many collections of folklore and myth specifically made accessible to children. I might read boys’ adventure stories, set in and around World War II or the ‘juvenile’ science fiction of Heinlein and Asimov. I didn’t care that they were all from a male point of view. Whatever I read was up to me.

Well, up to a point. The Dorset County Library system had two types of tickets to hold the record slips from the books, held behind the desk as the loan was date-stamped and issued. Adult tickets and child tickets were colour-coded like the book slips to make sure that children didn’t read anything unsuitable. We could have adult tickets when we went to secondary school at the age of eleven. Only by the time I was ten, I had read and re-read every book in the children’s section. The nice library ladies knew that; we were on first name terms after all. That’s to say, they called me Juliet while I called them Mrs Brown and Mrs Green.

I could venture 
into the adult shelves, 
grab anything with 

                Gollancz yellow jacket.
In my final year of primary school, we came to a gentlewoman’s agreement. Heinlein and Asimov had books in the children’s section, and Tolkien had written The Hobbit as well as The Lord of the Rings so Science Fiction and Fantasy were clearly safe. I could venture into the adult shelves, grab anything with a Gollancz yellow jacket and sundry other genre titles, and go home to read John Wyndham and similar classics.

I also read Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil, in which a dying billionaire’s brain is transplanted into a young woman’s body. To quote Wikipedia “Much of the book is devoted to a description of Joan's exploration of emotional and sexual love from the point of view of her new gender.” I’ll bet the nice lady librarians had no idea about that when they date-stamped the book. Perhaps I was too young for such ‘adult content’ but bear in mind that all I had was the words on the page. There’s only so far words can take you without the visual images to go with them which I most assuredly lacked. It was a more innocent age with far less overtly sexualized behaviour on view in popular culture. And such books can be vital stepping stones on the path from ignorance which has at least as many dangers as children grow up.

The library offered me freedom to entertain and to educate myself, at my own pace, at my own whim. To scare myself, to comfort myself, to discover the limits of my own understanding of adult life (with so many more complications than merely sex) and to decide for myself how and when I wanted to challenge such boundaries in my reading. All sorts of freedom within the safe confines of the original virtual reality: the world of books and imagination.

*
Juliet McKenna, photo by Ian Whates, used with
photographer's permission
Juliet E. McKenna lives in West Oxfordshire with her husband and children.  She is a prolific author of fantasy novels, such as The Tales of Einarinn series, The Aldabreshin Compass series, and the trilogies The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and The Hadrumal Crisis. When she isn't writing fiction, she is often speaking about writing and reading at science-fiction and fantasy conventions across Europe. 

To find books by Juliet E. McKenna at your library, use worldcat.org, click here, or ask your librarian!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Library Series: My Regrettable Non-relationship with Libraries by John Kenny

All summer writers have been sharing their childhood experiences at the library. It is sometimes assumed that today's writer was yesterday's reader reading under a library's green lamp and a librarian's green stare. This was not the case for this week's writer, Dublin writer and editor John Kenny, whose first library was Smiths Toyshop. 
  

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MY REGRETTABLE NON-RELATIONSHIP WITH LIBRARIES
by John Kenny


To this day, I’ve never borrowed a book from a library.



Reading on the Roof by Raul Lieberwirth
The situation is most likely very different today for children and teenagers who will one day become writers, but it’s a time honoured tradition that writers of my generation, and those that came before, were bitten by the reading bug in their local libraries.

Anyone dipping into the background of their favourite writer will almost invariably discover a story of impoverished resources when it came to buying books, in fact, a distinct lack of variety of books available for the buying, that resulted in a veritable plundering by the future writer of their local library.

It’s the old story of the birth of a voracious reader who works through all the classics, devouring them at an alarming rate, at all hours, including under the bedclothes at night with a flashlight (admittedly, the kind of classics involved here may not always have been of the literary variety).

I envy this story (including the under the bedclothes bit – could never get my hands on the appropriate reading material). I wish I could relate that I was a voracious reader as a youth and young man, that I’d read all the classics by the time I’d left school. But such was not the case.

This was due to two factors: my early obsession with comics and my schooling. Like most kids in Ireland (and the U.K.), my initial exposure to comics was limited to the weekly titles that came out of the U.K.: The Hotspur, The Victor, and the like. These featured, largely, the adventures of Second World War British soldiers and sporting heroes. All very well and good, and I still have fond memories of those titles, but I reckon I would have probably grown out of my interest in comics at an appropriate age if it hadn’t been for the discovery of a little treasure trove of U.S. Marvel and DC comics that nestled right at the back of Smiths Toyshop on Wexford Street, near Dublin’s city centre, where I lived from the late ’60s to the mid-’70s.

I was particularly drawn to the Marvel titles and was blown away by the artwork and the idea of full colour throughout. These titles never came into Dublin on any kind of consistent basis. I found out years later that they were stacked on pallets and used as ballast on ships travelling across the Atlantic; anyone could buy these pallets of comics for a pittance if they knew about it and had a truck they could drive down to the docks.

So I ended up using my imagination to fill in the blanks in the storylines when every other issue of various titles failed to turn up in Smiths Toyshop. It made the issues that did appear all the more precious. And the scarcity of these comics meant only a relative handful of kids in my area even knew of their existence. This resulted in a tiny group of aficionados, who would occasionally meet, almost secretly, to discuss burning topics like who would win a battle between Thor and the Hulk, which of Captain Marvel’s costumes was the best, and what were the merits of Jack Kirby’s art versus those of Jim Steranko.

John Kenny, age 7
In fact, I knew only two other kids in my area who read Marvel comics and all three of us never met together in the one place at the same time. So I was largely on my own in daydreaming about the fantastical adventures of all those colourful superheroes. And as my parents left me pretty much entirely to my own devices and I didn’t get on with my brother, I drifted off on a cloud of self-imposed exile from the planet Earth.

Even then, though, I may have moved naturally from comics to books in a more usual time-frame if it hadn’t been for second factor in my delayed embracing of literature: the Christian Brothers School I attended on Synge Street (and subsequent C.B.S. schools in the suburbs, when I moved out of the city).


Christian Brothers Strap by beppo1953, 
Creative Commons License  NoncommercialShare Alike  
Yes, I went through the meat grinder that was a C.B.S. education in the ’60s and ’70s, when corporal punishment was all the rage and the Christian Brothers were supplied with a standard issue ‘leather’, a mass produced seven or eight inch length of leather that had old pennies sewn into their several layers. ‘Six of the best’ on each outstretched hand would have you numb for ten or fifteen minutes before the excruciating pain kicked in. This is to say nothing of the Christian Brothers who liked to inflict more inventive tortures involving rulers, chalk, canes, and their bare hands. Luckily, I arrived into the system a mere year or two after they had stopped forcing left-handed boys to use their right hands for schoolwork. Anyway, as I say to my two daughters, who stare at me in disbelief when I relate this approach to education, it never did me any harm (he says with a nervous tic).

Christian Brothers Strap by beppo1953,
Creative Commons License  
NoncommercialShare Alike 
Now, despite this atmosphere of fear (who knows, maybe because of it), I may still have discovered the joys of literature in a more timely fashion. But the powers that be (or were) that dictated the reading list for English must have been born in a shed in the middle of a bog during a thunderstorm and deemed fit never to stick their noses out beyond the churned muck of their front yard. All joy, all humour, all understanding of what it is to be human, must have been extracted violently from their very bones as they sucked in their first breath.

Because the books chosen for the syllabus included titles like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Lord of the Flies. Now don’t get me wrong; as an adult, with the benefit of hindsight, I can recognise these books as works of real literature. But to a 12 year old boy they were nothing short of the most boring tomes imaginable. I discovered after I’d completed the Inter and Leaving Certs (the two big exams in Ireland before third level education) that I could have, off my own bat, read and answered questions on 1984, Catcher in the Rye and other titles that sounded to me infinitely more interesting than what we had been subjected to. But no, the Christian Brothers were resolutely silent on this alternative option.

The upshot of all this was a profound disinterest in literature. My schooling had succeeded in turning me off reading. By the time I was 16 or 17, I had pronounced anything that had the label ‘literature’ attached to it to be intrinsically boring. This resulted in a protracted love affair with comics that lasted well into my twenties.

My first independently motivated dipping of the toes into the world of literature occurred when I started collecting science fiction paperbacks. This was after I had left school and started work (university was not an option ever discussed in my household). And when I say I collected SF books, that’s literally what I mean. I didn’t read them; I just loved the cover art by Chris Foss, Peter Jones and others. So my collection of books grew while I continued to read comics.

Of course, I did eventually start reading the SF books, slowly at first, and thus began my belated journey into literature. And, as with all things indulged in with any degree of growing enthusiasm, my tastes have expanded over the years to include a wide range of literature.

Libraries unfortunately never featured in my childhood or in my young adult life, but now that I’m a writer, I find myself using my local library a lot. The irony is, it’s to write in, not read. To this day, I’ve never borrowed a book from a library.

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John Kenny lives in Dublin, Ireland and is a freelance writer, teacher and editor.  Additionally, he has served since 1993 as co-editor of Albedo One, Ireland's well-known science-fiction and fantasy magazine.  His most recent stories have appeared in Jupiter, Transtories, and The World SF Blog. Kenny is also the writer of a number of useful articles about writing and editing, over at his site, www.JohnRichardKenny.com.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Summer Library Series: The Mother of Libraries by TJ Beitelman

photo by Alan Levine
Sometimes, the saddest of books are the discarded ones, for they are discarded more often due to neglect rather than being so worn down a new one has been bought. The used books, the discarded books, the books used to prop up one leg of a dinner table or a child at the table--these are the unwanted, and often thought, near dead books. It is almost their dim pulse more than, perhaps, the words on the first few pages, that call people to used bookstores and library sales.

Today's installment of the Summer Library Series focuses on this, the discarded library book. Writer TJ Beitelman's mother bought one such book for him as a boy, and it was because of its library markings that he took such good care of it. . . not knowing it wouldn't be going back.

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THE MOTHER OF LIBRARIES
by TJ Beitelman


. . . at the time, the fact that my mother produced 
an honest-to-God library book [. . .] convinced me, 
once and for all, that she was not bound 
by any ordinary rules of the social contract.

where his mother likely bought the discarded 

Down Singing River
Moms are magic. A lot of us are lucky enough to know that. Thing is, moms are magic in different ways: some moms make magic brownies and/or casseroles. Some work magic with the PTSA, and some (most) know just when you’re tired, sick, or hungry. Others know when the lady (or guy) you’re dating is for real and when she’s so totally not. And all of them know when you yourself are full of shit, though some of them are nice enough not to call you out on it every single time.

My mom was magic in some (not all) of the ways above. But mostly she was magic in other, more unconventional ways: she crashed Harleys, for instance. Also she let me watch her put on her make-up every morning—which both fascinated and bewildered me—and she made good on her promise never to wear red nail polish because, well, it sort of freaked me out. She also took me to weird shit, like ballet and dinner theater and also to some semi-respectable, suburban religious cult-like thing involving rainbows and the randomly Spanish moniker “De Colores.” Almost all of this was a mystery to me. Still is. Thus: for me, mysteries became (or never stopped being) sacred. 

Case in point:

One of the sustaining original mysteries of my life is a library book called Down Singing River. Somehow, long about third grade, my mother presented it to me as mine to keep forevermore.

The book itself was magic too. It had stories in it. One about a talking fish. Another about an old fish—there was, to be sure, a decidedly ichthyological bent to the book—who got plucked up from his river habitat by a hungry bird. I seem to recall the fish wiggled his way out of his predicament, but I was always a little nervous and unsure about how my mother wiggled into possessing this book that seemed for all the world to be the property of the citizens of the town on the suburban outskirts where we lived our not-so-normal life.

Now I understand that libraries sometimes sell off portions of their collection to raise funds and make room for new books, but at the time, the fact that my mother produced an honest-to-God library book—with the circulation card in it and everything—convinced me, once and for all, that she was not bound by any ordinary rules of the social contract.

My mom isn’t with us anymore—not in flesh and blood, anyway. But I still have Down Singing River. And I still have the particular notion of what is sacred that my mother (and this book) helped instill in me.
I wrote a novel about sacred texts. It comes out next summer. In it, I excerpted passages from Down Singing River. The part about the talking fish and the other old fish that gets plucked up. What is sacred, to me, about that text is that it originally belonged to someone else. Lots of someone elses. That’s what libraries do: they house the words, the wisdom, the physical forms of a shared body of cultural knowledge.

"Boy, Reading"   Molly Dunham,
Used with photographer's permission
But that’s not all of it. That’s only half of it. What is sacred about that text is that it belonged to someone else and then it “belonged” to me. Which is to say: I was its custodial keeper. It wasn’t mine but I lived with it, next to my bed. I kept it dry, made sure the pages weren’t dog-eared. I pulled it out periodically, read it, put it back. Forgot it. Came back to it. Forgot it again. And then, years later, it reasserted itself—insistently—when I myself tried my best to share something lasting and artful and true about the human experience.

I could press my luck and make a metaphor about rebirth and resurrection. But I won’t. All I’ll say in closing is that the books we keep and the books we share will always and forever bind us together. There are more human things, probably: kissing someone on the mouth, the neck. Braiding someone’s hair. Holding hands. Feeding those we love. But for mystery, magic, for sharing a notion of that which is enduring and sacred, we probably can’t do much better than books. 

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TJ Beitelman
TJ Beitelman lives, teaches, and writes in Alabama and is the author of the chapbooks Pilgrims: A Love Story (Black Lawrence Press) and Thirteen Curses (and Other Love Poems) (Dream Horse Press).  His book of poems, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press this summer and his novel, John the Revelator, also from Black Lawrence Press, will be released next summer. 













Please join What She Might Think next Friday for John Kenny's
piece "My Regrettable Non-Relationship with Libraries,"
in which he details his childhood seduction by comic books. 




Friday, July 27, 2012

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


from Ohiohistorycentral.org
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.




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A TRUANT IN THE STACKS
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.




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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 worldcat.org 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!
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THE LIBRARY THAT DELIVERED
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.

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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.



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A KIND OF BEACON
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.

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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.




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BUILDINGS AND THE LOVE OF BOOKS

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.



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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 Worldcat.org.


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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.