Confessions of a Library Boy
I was a library boy.
Some of us are just born that way. We start on the soft stuff in the children’s section. Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Cat in the Hat, Go Dog Go, then we move up to juniors, The Great Brain, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Mad Scientists’ Club, then it’s on to young adult, Have Space Suit Will Travel, The Prince in Waiting, The Outsiders, then we’re hitting the grownup matter, The Lord of the Rings, The Glass Key, The Sun Also Rises. The ones who can’t handle it, they end up wandering in the non fiction aisles. But I don’t want to talk about that. Non fiction, that’s a one way downhill slide to periodicals and newspapers on rattan poles. Find yourself there and next you’re hooked on microfiche. Or that was the case back then. I figure you can’t even score any microfiche these days. It’s all digital now. Clicky clicky click. Man, what I wouldn’t give for the loud whir and clunk of a microfiche reader scrolling through back issues of The New York Times circa 1934.
Whoa, almost got the shakes there for a second.
Libraries will do that to you, get in the blood, an addiction that you forget after you have the coin to spend regularly in the shops, but ready to dig its claws back in whenever you let your mind drift back to those years when you were the kid sitting in the middle of a row of Dewey Decimaled spines wrapped in stiff cellophane, your Keds kicked out so the adults have to step over your legs as they walk by looking at the stuff on the top shelves. Kneeling at the spinney rack where they keep a few dozen beaten paperbacks with covers that mostly feature dragons, bullets, ray guns and maidens. Or pulling the long drawers from a card catalog and flipping up and down, scribbling titles, numbers, letters on scrap paper with an eraserless stub of yellow pencil.
You know who you are.
You’re the one who looked forward to a trip to the library more than a trip to the toy store. You’re the one, the day you got your own library card and didn’t have to borrow on you mom or your dad’s card anymore, that was better than the day years later when you got your driver’s license.
You know who you are.
You’re the one, the librarians knew your name. You found a book out of order on a shelf, you put it where it belonged.
You, the only time you were ever shushed was when you got excited about a book and started trying to tell someone about how good it was.
You wanted a repeal on the five-books-at-once-time limit.
You lobbied for expanded operating hours.
You, when you left the house and your folks asked where you were going and you said you were going to hang out, they knew you didn’t mean you were going to the bowling alley or the video arcade.
Yeah, you know who you are.
It hums in the blood, like the sound of the a/c on a summer day when that’s all you can hear other than the flipping of pages, the riffling of catalog cards, the squeak of the reshelving cart’s wheels, and the soft murmur of story time in the kiddie room where a volunteer is reading Harold and the Purple Crayon.
It’s the good stuff. It stays with you.
I have six books I’ve written on the shelves of the library where I cultivated my addiction. I can’t think of a damn thing else that I’ve done professionally that feels half as much like success as that does.
And, hey, whoever it is who’s had The Shotgun Rule out past-due since 11/15/08 better get on the stick, return that sucker, and pay their late fees.
Charlie Huston’s new book, The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death, will be published on January 13th, 2009.