Thursday, July 2, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: Scofflaw by Simone Zelitch

Welcome to the inaugural post of this summer's library series!  I'm pleased to showcase a third season of excellent writers and their reflections on growing up in the library.  The series originated in Summer 2012, when I was awarded an Artist Trust Fellowship that gave me the time to work on my fiction and other creative projects.

I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and looked forward to the annual public library summer reading program: the appearance of new colorful bookmarks on the circulation desk, the hanging of a banner of that summer's theme, and best of all, all the shiny new books that began to arrive and were set out in cardboard displays on the children's shelves but remained cloaked in sheets until the opening day.  It was a wonderful anticipation to experience. 

But because those programs are for children, and I've left that phase in most ways, I wanted to create something that provided that same excitement for grown-ups and returned us all to the library.  May you find the same excitement each Thursday when a new library reflection is released here at What She Might Think, from now through August.  And may you find yourself returning to the library nearest you and supporting this important aspect of our lives. 

Please enjoy this reflection by novelist Simone Zelitch, whose many early books came from the circulation desk at a branch library in Philadelphia.

The front of a single story library with a green roof and two glass doors. Foreground is sidewalk sheeted in rain.
Picture of Bustleton Branch Library

by Simone Zelitch 
The Bustleton branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia looks like a highway rest step: a single-story structure with long, narrow windows and a corrugated green roof.  It’s located next to Washington High school, which was an easy walk from our house in Northeast Philadelphia.  My mother claims that she took out fifteen books a week for me.  I never came along which made the process more efficient, but could be the reason why I have no early memories of libraries, no sentimental images of choosing my own read-out-loud book and watching a librarian stamp it with the due-date.  It also may explain why I couldn’t grasp that these library books were shared property.   I’d dog-ear pages, crack spines, and stain whatever I was reading with whatever I was eating at the time.   You might say that I left my mark. 
Photograph of two, dark-haired young girls in a photobooth. One is older and wears a hat, and the other hugs her from behind, head on her shoulder. They hold a small ceramic cow.
Simone hugging her "hippie sister"
who now works as a digital archivist.
Used with permission of author.
Things got worse when I began to check out books on my own. I didn’t return them. Cheap paperbacks like Paul Zindel’s The Pigman migrated from the library’s wire racks to my bookshelf and stayed there, along with dozens of case studies about teenagers who drifted through a hostile world until they finally found the person who understood them. I was that person. No one could love those books like me. Returning them to the library felt just plain wrong, as though I was condemning Lisa Bright and Dark or Dibs in Search of Self  to a life of abandonment and alienation. Besides, my older sister—a hippie and a role model— had so many library fines accrued that she was actually forbidden from ever taking out a book again,  and I had to do everything she did. In short—though I wouldn’t have used those words when I was twelve—returning library books felt like giving in to a conformist culture. 
What was the turning point?   In 1977, when I was fourteen, I actually wanted a book that was in demand, Alex Hailey’s Roots. Did the library have a record of all those unreturned paperbacks?  Maybe not, because they put me on a waiting list, and when my turn came, I took home a thick hardback with the same bold cover that had appeared at the end of the opening credits of the miniseries, and I propped it on my nightstand so it would be the first thing I’d see when I got up in the morning. Actually, the book wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be, but I did return it on time. After all, someone had done the same for me.  
Maybe that’s when I realized that libraries demanded a kind of social contract. Who read my nerdy paperbacks before I came along? I looked at the call slips and saw the long strip of stamped months and dates.  Eight readers had checked out I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. They were decent enough to return it so I could get my chance to read about a schizophrenic teenager and her German therapist. It’s romantic to imagine you’re the only one who loves something. It’s astounding to realize that you’re not alone. Who were the readers represented by the back-and-front eternity of stamps on Prince Caspian or Player Piano? Who took out Le Guin’s The Dispossessed or Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid or just about anything by Orwell or the autobiography of Emma Goldman?  In the days before social media, it wasn’t easy to find these people, my people, my tribe, but the stamped cards were proof positive: That tribe existed.    
It took me a long time to understand that honoring the social contract of a library isn’t conformist. It’s countercultural. In a consumer society, libraries aren’t about what we own; they’re about what we share. Given this understanding, when I look through my own crammed bookshelves, what should I do when I come across a copy of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t that was due on March 12, 1973?  Should I return it?  Probably.  

Simone writing in her room, 1978
Used with permission of author

Cover of Zelitch's novel,
Simone Zelitch has published four novels, most recently Waveland. Earlier work includes The Confession of Jack Straw, Moses in Sinai, and Louisa which was the recipient of the Goldberg Prize in Emerging Jewish Fiction. Her work has also appeared in The Lost Tribe Anthology and has been featured in the NPR broadcast and the published anthology Hanukah Lights.  Recent honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Fiction, and residences at the Edward Albee Barn and Yaddo.  She established a Creative Writing program at Community College of Philadelphia and currently coordinates their new Degree in English.  A new novel, Judenstaat, is forthcoming from Tor books in Summer 2016.  Visit her website here:
Books by authors in the Summer Library Series will link directly to author-friendly sites, such as the press itself or to the international library search engine, Please support small publishers, independent bookstores, and our libraries.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coming Soon: Summer Library Series 2015

Yes, it's that time of year.
Time to read.
Time to go to the library.
Time to pay the fine for the library books that you kept meaning to return.
Sarasota, FL 1958. Flickr, no known copyright restrictions.
And it's almost time for the Summer Library Series here at What She Might Think, where writers from around the world reflect on their childhood experiences in the library--from the non-experience to the befuddled experience to the awful experience.
I'm lining up the writers we'll begin hearing from in July.  But until then, like any good fan, please enjoy the summers' past writers as you prepare for the writers who are in the wings, typing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Chapbook Now Available!

My story "How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble" is now available as a chapbook from The Head and The Hand Press, a fantastic craft publisher in Philadelphia.

To get a copy:
A) If you're in Philadelphia, you can pick up a copy from a vending machine in Elixir Coffee.
B) Order directly through the press: 
C) If you'd like a signed copy, I have some available in the stash that follows me to readings/signings.

For Option B, send me a message and we'll go from there.

Photo Credit: The Head & The Hand Press

About the Story
A sister vanishes. The sister who is left is trying to find her, even once she knows she's dead.

It was published originally in The Minnesota Review, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist in the Kore Press Short Fiction Award. The judge of that award, Karen Brennan, said this about the story:
"What I most admire about this fine story is the author’s ability to render hyper-dramatic—almost gothic-- material with a beautifully orchestrated lyricism that never over-reaches itself.  Indeed, the story of the young girl grieving for her murdered sister is made even more poignant for its distant, almost oracular point of view, a point of view that allows the reader to glimpse not only the protagonist’s confusion and sorrow, but also the indifferent, soulless landscape in which she wanders.  A little Cormac McCarthy, a little Carson McCullers, “How the Sun Burns” is full of dense atmosphere, apocalyptic overtones and heart."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Good news! The Sun Burns in a Chapbook

My story "How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble*" will be released as a chapbook by The Head and The Hand Press next week, March 12.  

If you're in Philadelphia, you should swing by the release party.  If you're in the Pacific Northwest, then listen to the skies for a party, and follow the sound. :)

The chapbooks will be sold out of a vending machine at Elixir Coffee ShopStay tuned for more purchasing details.

Here's the official announcement from The Head and The Hand Press:

Update: You can purchase the chapbook directly through their website
Cost? $3.00, includes S&H

*The story was originally published in The Minnesota Review and named a finalist in the Kore Short Fiction Award.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Underground Voices Press Presents "The Lightning Tree" as Part of E-Series

Good news! Underground Voices Press is running an e-series of standalone stories, and my story "The Lightning Tree" kicks everything off today.  You can purchase it for the super great price of $1.50.  

"The Lightning Tree" will be in my next collection How The Sun Burns.  An earlier version of the story was originally published in Aeon Press's anthology, Box of Delights.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let's Meet at the Library: After NaNo WriMo Novel Editing Workshop

National Novel Writing Month has ended again, and it's time to start shaping all those words into the novel you wanted to write and the novel we want to read.  But where to begin and how to presume? Probably not by querying an agent, or asking for advice from your best friend--who doesn't like to read anyway, or by beginning to circle your typos on page one.  

Instead, join your fellow writers in the Revision Workshop I'm leading at the North Spokane Library this Saturday, December 6, from 2-3 PM.  We'll discuss ways to re-vision your manuscript, how to think about the revising process, and take part in a hands-on activity to make you feel more confident in the editor's chair.

The workshop is free and open to all interested fiction writers, regardless of genre.

North Spokane Library
44 E. Hawthorne Rd
Spokane, WA 99218

For information about this and other cool classes offered at Spokane County Libraries, see the schedule.  See you on Saturday!

Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Some Kind of Reader by Tim Greenup

From Montana to Delaware, from Michigan to Indiana, this year's sometimes-annual edition of the Summer Library Series comes to a close "somewhere in Oakdale, Minnesota" with this reflection by writer, Tim Greenup.  Thanks to all the writers who took the time to write original work for the series, and for all the readers who have enjoyed the work (and hopefully a bit of summer reading via your own local library). Without further ado, Tim Greenup, everybody:  


Some Kind of Reader
by Tim Greenup

I can only recall two things about my childhood library - itchy red-orange industrial carpeting and a wall of windows with sunlight coming through them - which both strike me as pretty commonplace sights for a suburban public library of the late 80’s. For certain I can say this of the library: it was somewhere in Oakdale, Minnesota and my family rarely went there.

Growing up, we weren’t exactly “book people.” We were TV people, and TV was king. We watched Cheers and Roseanne while eating hard shell, ground beef, tacos on flimsy foldable TV trays. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and laughed about Balki from Perfect Strangers. We went to church and stopped for donuts afterward, never exchanging a word about the sermon, but about the Starship Enterprise instead. We enjoyed our simple cathode ray pleasures, and reading, we’d been taught by TV, was, well, boring. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

That said, we did have a few books on a shelf in our living room, like a 12 book series on various peoples of the American West ("Plains Indians", "Mountain Men", "Homesteaders", etc.) and some book about the Civil War. I never saw either of my parents open these books, and I cannot recall anyone in my family ever voicing an interest in these topics. But the books remained on that shelf until the whole house got packed up and sold off a few years ago. The mint condition of the binding at the time of their packing suggested that no one had ever read them.

As a boy, I puzzled over the origin of these books. Perhaps they had belonged to a brave warrior and my family had been entrusted to keep watch over them while he fought valiantly in some far off place. Perhaps the only thing keeping him fighting was knowing that one day, when he got home, he could sit down and read at length about the Dust Bowl. It was our duty to keep that dream alive. More than likely, though, we'd been gifted the books one Christmas and didn’t know what else to do with them, so we put them out and went on with our lives. Nevertheless, I grew to like how the books looked lined on that shelf and what this small library suggested, albeit inaccurately, about the type of people that we were - smart.

Through grade school I began to build my own library of unread books. At school book fairs I bought as many as my pet sitting dollars would allow. When teachers handed out Scholastic and Golden Books catalogs for class book orders, I was always able to convince my mother to order me a few, for I would read them and reading them would lead to many future successes. Or that’s what I told her at least - something I’d picked up on 20/20. In reality, I thought that if my classmates saw me with enough crazy stacks of books, the smarter they would think I was, the more they would respect me and, in turn, the better I would feel about myself. I collected books with a desperate, misguided passion.

Whether my intellect ever crossed a single one of my classmate's minds, I will never know. I do know, though, that eventually the stacks of unread books in my bedroom got to be too much. They crowded my dressers and grew dusty. They stared at me, feeling neglected. I felt guilty, but turned away. I couldn’t read, it was just too boring, something teachers urged you to do and why should I listen to them? Urkel was on.

At some point, my father saw all the books I had amassed and made the wild assumption that I was some kind of reader. He offered to take me to the local library, that strange place with orange carpeting and sun blasting in from all sides. On our way there, we decided we would check out a book that we could read together. I stared at the paperback covers on the revolving plastic book rack. They didn’t seem all that different from the books I had in my bedroom. Some looked scary and haunting, while others looked heroic and brave. Some suggested hijinks or mystery or romance. We opted for a book titled You Are a Monster, which was part of the popular Choose Your Own Adventure series of the time. Cramped on my twin bed, my father and I read and read. It didn’t make me feel smarter or more respected, but my brain seemed to stretch in ways it never had before. Had my father not been there, I may not have allowed it to stretch like it did. But he was there, and I felt safe. The room was quiet and warm. I thought about the story long into the night.


Tim Greenup is a writer and teacher in Spokane, Washington. His poems have appeared in Redivider, Leveler, interrupture, and elsewhere. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Head & the Hand to publish How the Sun Burns

Good news! Philadelphia-based publisher, The Head & the Hand Press, is publishing the title story of my next collection.  The story "How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble" will be available as a chapbook this October.  The story was originally published in the minnesota review, nominated for a Pushcart, and was a finalist in the Kore Press Fiction Award (2012).  Stay tuned for how to get a copy.

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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 Summer Library Series: Card Catalog by Stephanie Noll

Welcome back to Friday! From Butte, Montana to Detroit, Michigan, the Summer Library Series now travels east to Claymont, Delaware and the two important libraries from the childhood of writer Stephanie Noll.  Enjoy!


Card Catalog
by Stephanie Noll

from getty images/
My elementary school experience was unfortunate, and not just because I was the fattest kid in class, always, though that didn’t help. My early reading abilities attracted the attention of my first grade teacher, who suggested that I take a test to determine if I was gifted and talented. I didn’t understand the meaning of those words, but I knew that such a designation came with privileges. In the small working-class town of Claymont, Delaware, the gifted and talented children rode a bus to a school in a nicer neighborhood. I wanted to ride that bus. I wanted to be around kids who were never without a book and who didn’t stumble over words when asked to read out loud. I imagined that in the kingdom of “Gifted and Talented,” I would not be called on by the teacher to tutor a classmate; I would not be bullied for my weight or for my excitement to answer any question the teacher posed.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t pass the test. In a solemn meeting of which I remember fragments, my teacher told me and my mother that I’d missed by one question. “One question!” she shouted, angry with the system, I knew, and not me. “If they would sit and talk with her, they’d know,” she said.

We did not fight the decision. I’m not sure what could have been done. But the school had a plan: they would allow me to take English and language arts classes with students in a grade above me, but I would stay with my class for math and science, social studies, art, music, gym. No one saw any problems with this solution; no one considered that the older kids might not accept me into their reading circles; no one imagined that I might have to miss recess or art or gym with my own class so that I could read from the Skylights basal. One correct answer shy of gifted and talented felt like a punishment.

One day, I left my 4th grade reading class, and when I returned to my 3rd grade class, the door was locked. I considered all the places where the class might be, but none of the usual suspects fit. I started to cry in the hallway, feeling untethered and lost and resentful. The only place I could think to go was the library.

The school librarian was an old lady with huge framed eyeglasses holding thick lenses. She hardly looked up from her crossword puzzle when I entered, and such is my first recollection of the independence and safety that I would associate with a library. From the shelves I pulled favorites like Harriet the Spy and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I sat at a small wooden table, books stacked like bricks all around me. I sat and read until the day’s end, and when my mom picked me up, I told her what happened.

from getty images/#181894596 /
The next day she arranged for me to re-take the gifted and talented test, and this time, I passed. After the first day of fifth grade in a new school in the nicer part of town, I came home, excited and satisfied. “The
kids,” I told my mom, “are just like me.” I fell in love with school and became aware of how much I didn’t know, aware that I wasn’t the smartest kid in the room. Early in the year, we were assigned a research project: write a report on an aspect of ancient Roman culture, such as education, mythology, social structure, food. We were required to consult several sources and encouraged to go to THE library. Not the one at the school, not the one in our classroom, but the county library on Concord Pike. A place with two floors and a card catalog. Beautiful wooden tables and chairs where you could (and I would, for all my secondary years) sit for hours and read and study and daydream and imagine yourself a scholar. Just being there made me feel older and smarter but also aware of a disconnect from my peers—I wasn’t sure that even my gifted and talented classmates would be so jazzed to spend an afternoon with a stack of notecards and a new Bic pen.

When I didn’t have assigned research projects, I’d make some up for myself: for awhile I read all I could about Impressionist painters; I studied the life and work of Jane Goodall; in my later years, I cut school to go to the library where I read every book Jack Kerouac ever wrote and everything written about him. In college I’d get lost in the stacks, intending to check out books about whatever subject I was supposed to be pursuing but pulling books at random just because their titles intrigued. The library has always been a place to escape, to daydream, to remind myself that there is so much to learn, especially for a kid like me, someone whose gifts and talents were really just her desire to know more.

Stephanie Noll lives in Austin, Texas and teaches writing, literature, and education courses at Texas State University-San Marcos. Formerly the editor of Badgerdog Press, she takes part in marathons and triathlons, tells stories as part of fundraisers for the Austin Bat Cave, moderates panels on women writers at the Austin Film Festival, and raises her two sons with her husband Michael.  To read more of her writing, check out her flash fiction, "Me" in The Owls and her articles over at Copper Apple.  She is at work on a memoir.