Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: Walking to East Branch by Carol (Ryan) Pringle

Hello, hello! Welcome to the Summer Library Series, an annual weekly exhibit of wonderful essays in which professional writers reflect on their childhood in the library. This week's edition is a slight departure from the formula, as our author is not a professional writer, although three of her children are.  She is a dedicated reader of the series and was very pleased to contribute this reflection. I bring to you the origin of my love of the library, my mother.  Please enjoy her memories of the East Branch Library in Evansville, Indiana.
Walking to East Branch
Carol (Ryan) Pringle
The East Branch Library, Evansville, IN
From EVLP History
Opened in 1913, the year of my mother's birth, the East Branch of Evansville, Indiana system (now called East Branch of Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library) was the library of choice for our family, as it was within walking distance from our home 6 blocks away.  By the time I was old enough to read and walk to the library with Mother, my sister, and brother, it was 1945; Dad was finishing his World War II Army service, so wasn't home to walk with us.
The building itself was in an ideal location between Stanley Hall Elementary School and Bayard Park.  (After I was invited to write of my experiences, it occurred to me that there was no library in our elementary school.  Neither did our classrooms have novels and non-fiction books to read, unless the teacher read to us from a book she'd acquired. So, access to a nearby library was essential in broadening our world).  On the east side of the library, Bayard Park afforded us a place to slide, swing and teeter totter during the summers of our youth, as well as to hold special school activities, celebrating the end of school.
Carol as a child,
used with author's permission
As one of many Carnegie libraries, East Branch seemed a huge building in this young child's eyes.  More space was dedicated to adult books and reading materials than to children's, as the number of children's authors was less prolific than in today's world.  Even the books each of us owned were few in number, so our twice-a-month trips to exchange our books that were due (very important that we not have an overdue book) for new ones, were vital to our joy of reading.
It was an enforced rule to be QUIET in the library, and if we needed to speak to each other or to the librarian, it had to be in hushed tones.  Otherwise, "SHHHHH" was the most used word heard. I decided the librarian's job entailed keeping the room quiet, no matter how mean a look she maintained . . . oh yes, and stamping the book to indicate when it was due back.  I wouldn't have dared ask her a question about a book (or anything else) for fear of her shushing me.  On the other hand, years later, a friendly librarian was hired and it was like having a cheerful breeze floating through the room.  
Two images stand out in my memory of those young years--one was the stereoscopes that were set on a library table for anyone to look through at 3-D pictures.  The stereoscopes were somewhat like the modern View-Masters but were more cumbersome in their structure.  Still, it was fun to look at the scenes from this interesting non-toy.
Children using stereoscopes,
Cincinnati, OH public library
The second image is the experience of a Summer Reading Program circa 1949, in which the program's final activity, as a reward for having read and reported on a certain number of books (10?  20?), was a trip to Lincoln City, Indiana, where Abraham Lincoln once lived, as well as the location of his mother's (Nancy Hanks Lincoln's) grave.  The process of attaining this reward was interesting in itself, as the title of each book read was placed on a paper "log" and added to the building of a "cabin" there in the library.  It was no easy task for me to read and report to that strict librarian, regarding the number of books required, but the struggle brought great satisfaction in completing the program and receiving the reward!
By the time I was a Brownie Scout and then a Girl Scout, the basement of the library became the meeting place after school for our troop.  I clearly remember the "flying up" ceremony from Brownie to Girl Scout held there and also recall one of our meeting in which we performed "Snow White," my role being that of the Mirror.  How meaningful that role still is in that "reflecting" is one of the main things I continue to do in my daily thoughts.
Having pondered these memories, I now realize what a dear part of my childhood the East Branch Library was, from the feeling of family togetherness in walking to get there, to the sharing of the experience of reading, to the disciplines of quietness and being prompt in returning what we'd borrowed, to the sense of community in knowing others shared this space.  Although libraries have dramatically changed in their services, including computers and other ways of accessing books around the state and country, they continue to be a vital part of my life in the community in which I now live.
Carol (Ryan) Pringle grew up on Linwood Avenue in Evansville, Indiana and now lives in Casey, Illinois. She has her bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education from Indiana State University and is about to begin her last year of educating children before retiring next spring at age 76. She is an active member of the Martinsville, IL Methodist church, enjoys singing, and walks her dog three times a day.  She is also a grandmother of five. You can read past interviews I've done with her: "Christmas Began at 1104 South Linwood" and "The Woman Who Helped Author Me."
If this is your first time travelling with the Summer Library Series, you can catch up by visiting all the places we've been this season: Philadelphia, Washington, Switzerland, Iowa, Texas, and Spokane. Past seasons of the series are housed here. The series will continue through August, so please check back next Thursday, and share with friends and strangers until then.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: My Dear Library by Ben Cartwright

Welcome back to the Summer Library Series.  It's August, that part of the summer that is both full-on summer and the inevitable decline toward autumn. And so it is with this season's library series here at What She Might Think. All summer, writers have been sharing their childhood memories of the library: wild horses gone still in streamscigarettes left for an attic, the refusal of returning books, the fear of betraying one library by checking out the books of another, and the small, enormous political acts of reading what others don't approve of.

We now move to a series of dedications, letters, summonings of the past, with writer Ben Cartwright. Enjoy!

Envelope, photograph by Dingler1109,
used under CC license

My Dear Library
Ben Cartwright 
Dear Spokane Valley Library (1980),
My mother was losing it.  School canceled for a week, noonday sky black and missing the sun's round punctuation, so faces covered in surgical masks (because of St. Helen's) we clambered into the Volkswagen bus.  Ash in the streets made crests and troughs under our tires.  Laneless, we stuttered over Sprague, crept around the S-curves of Main, wipers set to high and accomplishing nothing.  My mother, driving blind and sobbing, triggered a sympathy response in my sister, and their chorus of lamentation as I held my finger to my small mouth, made the noise a librarian makes when she (the ones I loved were always she) tells the world to remain silent, to keep a kind of order, for a while.  Your square door was lit yellow and bright.  It was the end of the world.  I left the van first.
The Cartwright Family, used with author's permission.

Dear Spokane Valley Library (1984),
In the old building, the Children's Section was a separate room.  The yellow backs of Nancy Drew's jeremiad were like a magnet.  We took turns looking at the pictures pressed into the vinyl of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack, scratched and unlistenable, never checked out more than once by any given family, a found portal.  I'm sure the separate room was dangerous, maybe the reason for the new building.  Vague memories of adults being ushered away, men being questioned about who belonged to them, whom they belonged to. 

On our island of the Children's Section, in the old building, I learned to play with others.  A boy swears he will pee in the corner, next to the oversized picture books.  My sister tells him she's a witch, feeds him one of the allspice she keeps in her pocket, says she'll grant him a wish if he swallows.  Once it's down, we tell him never to pee in the library again, or she'll say the word, and a thousand tiny spiders will hatch in his insides, make their way through membrane and sinews, come pouring out of his ears, his eyes, his small and doglike instrument he uses to destroy the public good. 

Years later, she earns her Master's in library science, and I lead undergraduate students into the stacks in a university library, in another state, another time zone.  I tell a student on his phone that he can leave, can get into his father's Escalade and drive off, without a grade; that this is a library, and you don't do that in here.  I offer extra-credit if they read anything banned.

Dear Spokane Valley Library (1990),
My sister is a library page, and her spies are everywhere.  Still, my quiet and troubled first girlfriend placed my hand on her breast, underneath her shirt, while watching Edward Scissorhands, so I turn to you.  I am discrete, and know the call numbers.  I start with anatomy, but those books are like a deer trail that starts somewhere you think you know, and then leads you into a ragged clearing where there isn't any outlet, only forest, the peeling skin of birches, an impenetrable wall of Ponderosa Pines.  I turn to psychology, and understand now, that I was reading the Kinsey report.  I find a terror of unknowing, a gulf I am not ready for.  In graduate school, I think of this as "the fear"—the wave of books you never understand, the reading of which would outlast you, and take another lifetime.  Offering to shelve what I've pulled, my sister's friends tell their friends, who tell their friends, who tell their friends what I'm reading--the library pages a perfect system of babble, like the voices that spoke to Joan of Arc from the brook.  My sister throws a library page party at our house that devolves into laughter.  None of them were in the theater, after being driven there and dropped off, unkissed, lost in the dark, hand trembling and pressed against what Solomon called gazelles.

Dear Spokane Valley Library (2014),
I am relieved for your tables with the single chairs, each with private outlets, a ziggurat of essays to grade before me, a place that is not my home, where I will not fall asleep.  I hear the new building is now old.  Like a selkie, you will be changing skins, but I remember you best when you traveled from wave to wave, crest and then undertow.  This is not to say I will not vote for you to change.  Once, I slipped outside beyond your loading dock, in the dark, smoked my first and only cigarette near your dumpsters.  The friend who gave it to me is buried.  I don't know what it means.  Another time I drove across the country, and married the first girl I saw in town.  She was reading a book.  She wore red socks, and looked like a librarian.  Thank you.
Ben Cartwright
Ben Cartwright grew up in Spokane. His work has appeared in many fine places, such as the Seneca Review, The Stinging Fly, Midwestern Gothic, Diagram, Verse Daily, DMQ Reviewand Matter Press.  He has his PhD from University of Kansas, where he taught for a number of years; he also taught in Tianjin, China and now teaches at Spokane Falls Community College.  Currently, Ben is writing a speculative fiction novel set in 19th century Tianjin, China titled An Amah in Victoria Park.  You can follow him on Twitter here.
If this is your first time travelling with the Summer Library Series, you can catch up by visiting all the places we've been this season: Philadelphia, Washington, Switzerland, Iowa, and Texas. Past seasons of the series are housed here. The series will continue through August, so please check back next Thursday, and share with friends and strangers until then.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: This Book: One Week by Emilia Rodriguez

Thanks for returning to the 2015 Summer Library Series, in which writers share their childhood memories of the library every Thursday, all summer long here at What She Might Think.  Our July travels began in Philadelphia and end in the hot sun of Texas with this week's featured writer, Emilia Rodriguez. Please enjoy!

A photograph in gray tones is taken up close to a chainlink fence overlooking an empty public pool. A red brick building is to the left, in the distance.
"What is it about Empty Swimming Pools?" photo by Peter Shelk,
Used under CC license
This Book: One Week
Emilia Rodriguez

Photograph shows a girl with long dark hair, her back to the left side of the picture. She wears a green and red plaid shirt. She has a hesitant expression.
Emilia Rodriguez as a child,
Used with author's permission
We didn’t stay in places very long when I was young.  My parents were born in Mexico.  My father was not a U.S. citizen.  We moved to Fort Worth, TX when I was in the first grade.  Until then, all of my classes had been bilingual.  Spanish was my first language.  My English was shaky.  I could read a little and watch cartoons, but holding a conversation was difficult. 
            On my first day of school, I had a migraine.  I watched the teacher become more and more frustrated as I struggled to tell her I needed to see the nurse.  My lacking vocabulary, and the anxiety of being in a roomful of strangers didn't make it any easier.
            "She needs to go to the bathroom!" one of the girls offered.  I nodded and the teacher pointed to the clock.  She explained that I should be back by the time the red hand went around the clock three times.  I nodded again and left to find the nurse's office.  I made it halfway down the hall before I saw the library.
            The library was big, colorful, a toy store I’d never been to before.  It made me forget I had a headache or even a head.  From behind the glass doors, I saw a book with a picture of a coconut palm tree and words like music on the cover, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
            I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in the library, so I took the book and crawled under a table.  I didn’t care that it was dark or that I’d be in trouble if I was caught.  I felt happy because I wasn't struggling to communicate or keep up.  Eventually, the girl who’d sent me to the bathroom found me.  She said the teacher was upset and wanted me to come back, but all I wanted was to stay. 
            We moved again when I was in second grade, to a border town called Roma, Texas.  Roma is located in Starr County, the poorest county in Texas, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that its library was a trailer hitched by the public pool.  My aunt used to take me there on weekends. I loved it.  I got my first library card there. Blue card stock, typewriter ink, and the feeling of belonging. I remember walking around knowing it was in my pocket and feeling like a grown-up.  I had all these new responsibilities.  I had to meet the reading deadlines and make sure I didn’t lose the borrowed books.  It was a promise.
            I felt like I broke that promise when my aunt drove me to a library in Mcallen, TX.  It was the biggest library I’d ever seen, complete with spiral staircases and more children's books than I had remaining days of childhood to read them.  At first I was happy just to be there, but that feeling soured when I remembered my promise to belong to the other library.  When I asked my aunt about it, she explained that I could borrow books here, too.  She explained that this library was Public.  It belonged to everyone.
            That day I remember bringing home a book about Ramona Quimby.  In it, Ramona squeezed out an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.  It was something I had always wanted to do.  As I read it, I felt my hands squeeze at the tube of paste, making a twisted rope of red, white, and blue mint.  Afterward, Ramona’s wastefulness was discovered, and she was severely scolded by her mother.  I felt Ramona’s joy turn into regret.  She was punished by having to scoop the toothpaste into a plastic bag and use it every day.  The toothpaste fiasco was meant to be a lesson for me, and children everywhere.  Our parents have worked hard for the American Dream, so don't squander your privilege, however small it may feel.  It was a good first choice of book, because each time I returned for a new one, it was done with the bewilderment of someone having survived the Great Depression.   I had the awareness of owning something in excess and having the responsibility to ration. This toothpaste: one month.  This book: one week.

Black and white photograph of a woman with dark hair, long. Her bangs are pulled sharply down and across her forehead and tucked behind her ear. Her eyes look straight out, her mouth is in a half-grin.
Emilia Rodriguez, used with author's permission
Emilia Rodriguez is a native Texan and a graduate of Texas State University where she is now an MFA candidate in Fiction.  She has previously been published in Cleaver Magazine and Hypertrophic Literary.  She currently lives in San Marcos, Texas with her husband, and is working on her first novel.  

If this is your first time travelling with the Summer Library Series, you can catch up by visiting all the places we've been this July: Philadelphia, Washington, Switzerland, and Iowa. Past seasons of the series are housed here. The series will continue through August, so please check back next Thursday, and share with friends and strangers until then.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: This Library Was Made for You and Me by Liz Rognes

It's a dizzying time of travels this summer here at What She Might Think, from Philadelphia to Washington to Switzerland, and this week, to the rural fields of Iowa.  Please enjoy this week's reflection of growing up in the library by singer, songwriter, and essayist, Liz Rognes.


This Library Was Made for You and Me
Liz Rognes


Picture shows a one-story brick building with two large windows on either side of a door. Windows and door are framed with blue shutters. An American flag flies on a pole in front. Lake Mills Public Library is written over the door in blue block letters.
Lake Mills Library
Summers in Lake Mills, Iowa meant long, hazy, humid days. My mom would drop my siblings and me off at the town pool for morning swimming lessons, two miles away from our farm, and then we would walk a few blocks to my grandma’s house, wrapped in our towels, our skin smelling of chlorine and salty sweat. My Grandma Bea was an Irish Catholic Democrat, the kind who fervently believed in social justice and local participation. She was on the Board of Directors for the public library, and she or my mom would take us every week for story hour or just to check out books. When we were old enough, we could walk by ourselves from Grandma’s house to the library across the street: a small, unassuming building on the outside, but on the inside filled to the brim with books and stories about the big, exciting, incomprehensible world outside of our little Iowa farm town.
I was a kid from a small, fairly conservative town in the middle of the country, but I learned about political history, dissent, revolution, magic, ghosts, outer space, and wild new ways of thinking from books. My favorite books were the ones that sparked controversy, the ones that my teachers sometimes talked about with a spectrum of thinly veiled to explicit disapproval. I remember lying on the musty, familiar carpet of the school library sometime in middle school, reading Go Ask Alice, when a teacher interrupted me to ask if my parents would approve of a “book like that.”
But I had already read lots of books “like that”: a quick perusal of the ALA’s list of most often challenged books in the 1990s reminds me of many of my favorite books as a preteen and teenager: The Handmaid’s Tale; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; Catcher in the Rye; Carrie; and so forth. I loved reading books with teen and female protagonists; I could relate to teenage girl angst, and, even though I was a quiet, “good” kid, I felt a tacit, political alignment with the outliers and rebels in the stories I read. My parents encouraged me to read and to read anything; the only censorship I remember from my parents came around the time I developed insomnia as a result of reading a collection of horror stories. The book mysteriously disappeared, a phenomenon I first attributed to a poltergeist, but then I realized that the thief had been my own mother, motivated by the desire to protect me from my own imagination.
As a younger kid, I loved browsing the shelves of the library, looking at the covers and titles and imagining the people and places that lived inside of each compact rectangle. I was a daydreamer and an eager traveler; it took very little for me to be launched into narrative transport: one moment I would be a kid in a sticky swimming suit and the next I would be Nancy Drew, bravely exploring haunted mansions, piecing together a puzzle of clues, and helping the families of the dead. I especially loved series of books; I loved the extended narratives and the way that I could grow up right along with the characters if I caught a series at the right time.

Photo shows a girl reading in a chair. Photo is taken from behind her. She wears yellow tights, a mini skirt, a gray sweater, and her hair is parted down the middle. A toy is in the far background. She is about 12 years old.
"Repose" by Various Brennemans, used under CC license
I would take library books with me everywhere I went. I read at the pool, Grandma’s house, car trips, gym class, and all corners of the farm where I lived. I would sit under a row of evergreen trees, curl up with the dog in the old chicken house-turned dusty storage shed, or I would sprawl out on top of a stack of hay bales in the stables and read while listening to the familiar huffs and stomps of the horses. I loved—and still love—the option to vacate my own life for a while, to disappear into someone else’s story.
My own sense of social justice and local activism has been informed by my love for reading, by developing empathy and understanding through narrative. Public libraries have played a big role in this development, and I am thankful that my parents and my grandma were such supporters of our local library and supporters of access to a variety of books.
Four years ago, I fell in love with a public librarian—not because of his librarianship, but because of his big heart, his patience, his creativity and sense of humor, his intellect: all things that make him a wonderful librarian, too. We have a one-year old son who already loves the library. Our son loves being around other kids and grown-ups, he loves picking out books and going to story time, and he loves visiting Dada at work. My Grandma Bea didn’t live to meet my partner or my son, but our little family carries on her love for libraries, knowledge, and local participation.

Picture shows a woman standing to the right of a barn door holding a guitar in her right hand and wearing a fedora hat and a white summer dress.
Liz Rognes,
Photo Used with Author's Permission
Liz Rognes is a writer and folk musician who lives in Spokane with her partner Jason and their son Nelson. She performs widely, from Washington to Minnesota, and teaches at Eastern Washington University.  Her newest album is Topographies. She's also a contributing blogger for the Emily Program. For more information about Liz, and to listen to samples of her music, please visit her website 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: Cigarettes and Astrid Lindgren by Regi Claire

Welcome back! It's the third Thursday of July and time for the third reflection in the 2015 Summer Library Series.  This summer's season began in Philadelphia, travelled through the rural towns of Washington, and now crosses over to Switzerland.  Please enjoy this memory by author Regi Claire, who takes us into her childhood by way of a small school's attic library.

Primarschule Mūnchwilen,
Photo by Roland Zumbuehl
Cigarettes and Astrid Lindgren
by Regi Claire

Regi Claire as a child,
Used with author's permission
When I was eight, I read a whole library. A library? Yes. Housed in a small attic room with a combed ceiling, up a steep flight of wooden stairs from the stone-flagged second floor of my village primary school. But why the sink and cupboards? Why the thick cigarette smoke? Well, the library must have been an afterthought. 
        First and foremost, the room was for the staff. The table was always littered with debris after the teachers' mid-morning break: full ashtrays, empty cups, a coffee pot, milk jug, spilt sugar  and, best of all, a plate of leftover cookies. Out of the whole week, Saturdays were the only days we kids, or at least a couple of us, were allowed into that smoky sanctum. And, boy, didn’t we fight for it!
        Picture the little girl then, with her straight hair and almost-straight frock, dashing off her arithmetic exercises extra-quick to be eligible for the cookies  and the books that would make her head reel with magic. Luckily, my maths skills were up to scratch. ‘Off you go, Regula (the tedious version of my name). And you too, Karoline.’
         Generally it was girls who got chosen  probably because our hands were marginally cleaner… You didn’t think we were sent upstairs simply to have fun, did you? Pleasures are usually dampened by duties, in our case by soap suds. The water, which our teacher would run into the sink before leaving us to do the washing-up, was so hot that when you plunged in your hands they came out looking boiled. At least this made us feel grown up.
        The school library consisted of two long shelves above the counter and sink. And so, after tidying away the dried cups, spoons and saucers and polishing off the last of the cookies, we would climb the short ladder to check out the books. We loved fantasy, adventure and romance. Authors such as Astrid Lindgren, Ottfried Preussler, Erich Kästner, Klaus Held, Lisa Tetzner and Federica de Cesco were among our favourites. We knew we didn’t have much time before the teacher returned to take us back to the classroom, but for the few minutes up on that ladder under the eaves, choosing our booty, we were the happiest schoolkids on earth.
        That was how, to my mind, dish-washing became synonymous with libraries and cookies. These days my husband reads to me while I plunge my hands into the suds after dinner. By now we must have shared close to two hundred books  far too many to fit into that little library at my old primary school!

Regi Claire grew up in Switzerland and now lives in Scotland. She speaks four languages and is the author of four books of fiction, all written in English: Inside~Outside (1998), The Beauty Room (2002), Fighting It (2009), and The Waiting (2012). She has twice been shortlisted for a Saltire
Regi Claire,
photograph by Mike Knowles

Scottish Book of the Year award. One of her stories was selected for Best British Short Stories 2013. A former Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, she is now a newly appointed Royal Literary Fund Lector for Reading Round Scotland. She is married to poet and novelist Ron Butlin. You can read several of her stories online, such as "The Tasting" and "Fighting It." To learn more about her and her work, please visit

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.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 Summer Library Series: On Libraries and Vans by Maya Jewell Zeller

We're in the second week of the 2015 Summer Library Series, where each Thursday brings us a new writer reflecting on his or her childhood in the library. This week, we're moving from a branch library in Philadelphia to a mobile library in Washington State.

Dedicated readers of the series may remember a travelling library in England that we learned about in the first season in Dan Powell's piece, "The Library Delivered."  This week's installment will change the landscape where the books travelled, but not the pleasure of finding them when they stopped. Please enjoy Maya Jewell Zeller's memories of the mobile, rural Washington lending libraries.  Enjoy!

"No longer in service, this old TRL bookmobile now resides on private property
just south of Amanda Park, Washington. Photo taken 19 Dec 2011. Library Service to this area of rural
Washington is now provided by the Amanda Park branch of Timberland Regional Library."
Used under CC license
On Libraries and Vans: a Western Washington Pastoral
By Maya Jewell Zeller
Where my family lived wasn’t a town. It was a series of backroads off Rural Route 4, a river bend tourists would have driven past—or did—if it wasn’t for their interest in the covered bridge, promised like a Meryl Streep movie, if you take the turn indicated and head down the hill, past the tangle of maple and alder, sword fern and salmonberry, through the field of hay grass and thistle with the nettled edge. 

            I didn’t know what a RomCom was, or really much about American culture beyond our valleys. But once a week, my mother took us to the library van in Naselle, a fifteen-minute drive from where we lived. I thought of that van the way I imagine some kids in cities might have anticipated the ice cream truck—at first, with excitement over their new flavors; I could almost taste the books, their potential—and soon, with familiarity, having had every kind, intoning which I would choose based on my mood, the color and definition of clouds. It wasn’t long before I had read every children’s book in the van, and moved on to YA, and then adult.

            The van of books was part of the Timberland Regional Library System (TRLS). TRLS libraries serve the five Southwest Washington counties Grays Harbor, Thurston, Mason, Lewis, and Pacific. In the late 1980s, before TRL expanded to the 27 libraries they have today, they utilized Bookmobiles—vans stationed in the rural-est of rural communities so children like me could check out books, add to their growing understanding of the tangible world.

            The library van was a small castle of knowledge, imagination, possibility. Like my natural library of plants, it held both familiarity and the promise of something beyond that familiarity. So, when I think of libraries, I think of vans. I think of my other kind of “library van”—the kind that happened when my family left the valley I knew and drove away in a VW bus made up like a small home on wheels, traveled every couple months to make a little cash so we could keep paying our cheap ($150/month) rent, keep living in the old farmhouse with the bathtub falling through the floor and the fields and fields and brambles and sky and river.
"Willapa Hills" by Emily Geddes, Used under CC license
I’m ten. It’s summer, or more specifically, a summer-like fall. Our parents have pulled us from school again, and I’m at a library in Winlock, in Raymond, in Shelton, in Elma, in Hoquiam. It doesn’t matter which one. Whichever it is, I know this library. They are all over Southwest Washington, in all the rural towns of the Willapa Hills. My mother and father leave my sister and me at the library, a natural babysitter, while they re-cover billiards tables.
            For an hour or so, we sit obediently in the stacks, reading children’s books to one another, exploring the magical realms of endless language. But we’re children, and we wander . . . like our library van, searching for more library vans, searching for curious lands, our hands curious and searching for curiosities.
            In one town, we find a bank with a fountain.
            The fountain is full of coins!
            What a joy for two children whose books are loans, whose toys are whistle-grass and bull thistle, who live sometimes itinerant van lives. We gather the coins into our pockets—shiny quarters, coppery pennies like a river gleam, like lit seeds on an unmowed hay field, dimes, nickels—our pockets full, we pitch some back and wink at the drive-through attendant who barely believes our kindness to return what we’ve rightfully found: her mouth open in surprise at our generosity! 
            Rich as queens, we duck into gift shops, buy plastic boats, books, in a thrift shop a paper bag of lingerie for one dollar—from the fill-a-bag-for-a-buck bin—and parade back to the bank with our boats and our extra change we throw back in coin by coin. We wish and wish and wish and wish for more.
            I wish for a library building, a book castle. I wish for a frosted cookie.
            This is our library of monetary wealth: a bank fountain, from which we liberate what we can, give back what we don’t use.

            In another town, we are to wait in the van. Our parents are in the tavern, and we have little toy bears, our snacks, our books, the libraries of our imaginations. We leave it all, except our brains. Behind us is a river, we can hear it, but we have to navigate a steep slope lush with maples and alders, we have to scramble down to reach the bank, a rock bar where we hop among the boulders looking for ones where our little hips will fit. We settle on some granite lumps from which we can see the other shore—not more than thirty feet across the river, where a more silty/sandy gravel bar juts out in a wide arc just below the field above.
            Nothing happens. We sit, we watch the river move around its rocks.
            It is as if we are thinking of which book to choose—looking at the opposite shore, not even scanning, really—when we feel the earth begin to vibrate, nearly imperceptible at first, so neither of us speak of it, then noticeable, our bodies humming with the hum and us turning toward each other, then loud like thunder and across the river a cloud of dust and golden moving gods, their hooves and the hum and the air dust we can now taste, its chalky presence, the cloud of these animals’ bodies—a herd of wild horses, honey colored palominos coming down the bank, the water splashing, their bodies unaware of us, fixed points, the whole library of horses we are inside for only a moment, really, before it moves on, and is gone, and we hardly believe it has been there at all except we’ve both witnessed—been witness to, been one with, the spirit-rich reality of it. The kind of event that, had you been alone, you wouldn’t whisper a word of to anyone, for fear it wasn’t real, or sharing it would make it less so.

            I still think of that as one of the most visceral moments of my life, the Wordsworthian library of that moment, in which all my senses were alive, and I knew nothing.
            My mother learns from the owner of the tavern that a family owns and keeps the land so the horses can live there. Later, I check out a book from the library, read about wild horse herds and how they are in danger in the west, all over America. This herd is an anomaly.
            But no amount of information competes with the duende of that moment when the wild horses were around me, or the monument my memory has made of it since.
            In the early 1990s, the rural town we then called home—where we’d had the grace of a Bookmobile—replaced the van with a funded, fixed library building. But I still think of the van where first I worked my way through the picture books, young adult novels, moved on to “gardens,” eventually went off to college, where the century-old building was bricked and cavernous and unmovable by wheels, and smelled of musty carpet-bag couches and unwatered spider plants.
            And, later, and now, with digital technology, I know I can access the world--but still when I visit a library, online or in person, I imagine it as a van full of colorful spines, stopping in the closest town, and me inside—filling my bag with books I'll then haul in our van around our little corner of the state, the state another library itself, and me a librarian, cataloguing plants and coins and wild horses and all the viscera into their little shelves of memory.


Maya Jewell Zeller is a poet living in Spokane, WA. Her first collection, Rust Fish, is available from Lost Horse Press. Her chapbook, Yesterday, The Bees, will be published by Floating Bridge Press this autumn. She is the fiction editor at Crab Creek Review and teaches at Gonzaga University. She runs a reading series, leads workshops, gardens, and raises two children with her husband, Chris. You can enjoy these poems, "Astoria" (The Florida Review) and "My Grandmother's Cow" (Rattle). To read and learn more, visit her website:


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.

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.