Dear On the Move,
Would you choose a new town by the contents of its library? You betcha! Ah, but, perhaps you like your town, but your library is lame- easily fixed! Get all your best books, pile them up into a wheelbarrow, and roll them to your library. If you cannot bear to part with your best books, then buy the library new copies. Presto! Your library is now great!
I frequent three libraries, and these three have access to systems of ever more libraries, so there are books aplenty. It's a curious thing, but my requested titles from the library often come from a specific branch: The Blanchard Library in Santa Paula. Blanchard is often the only library in the system that has the book I am looking to read.
It makes a kind of venerable paradise of Santa Paula for me: I think of its orange blossom laden breezes and mild weather when I see the Blanchard bookplate in the various volumes. I think of the wonderful group of librarians who tend this rare and special collection in the small town. I think of them shelving these lovely volumes, and making little decisions: "Hmm, not enough shelf space for a nice copy of Summer Lightning, guess we will take out a few more John Grisham novels, or this biography of an ex-president; oh, here's a lot of space, if we just get rid of these books on stock market strategies for personal retirement accounts! Also, there are some picture books on football that we don't really need, either...."
They meet after hours, the four or five of them, to make these decisions about our future as readers, and they bring tea and coffee, which they spike with whiskey and grappa. They speak quietly, and laugh loudly, even a touch vindictively, as they weed out the books that might make our inner world a less beautiful place. The rejoice in the books that open doors and point to expansive horizons, and they shun those that regurgitate stereotypes and give us only what we do not hate, instead of offering what we have never even imagined.
A book can say anything- consider that for a moment, as it fills you with awe. Stare with me at the vast firmament of words and possibilities and notice how tiny we are. That dome above is the place that books are born- writers choose out of all of that, out of the whole of everything, a line which defines a story in a world, and they do not need anyone's permission or anyone's cultural conventions; they can write, they can build their world, completely free of our expectations, desires, or morals. It's an absolute freedom and it commands our respect.
Likewise, if a writer abuses that power, they should be shunned, especially by wise and powerful small groups of tea-swilling librarians in small towns. To the librarians, the keepers of our literary treasure and our collective imagination, I say ''shine on you crazy diamonds!'
Now that your appetite for a book of unconventional narrative and power has been whetted, consider reading my latest request from the Blanchard Library: The Hearing Trumpet, by Leonora Carrington. On page 21 she gives us this:
At times I had thought of writing poetry myself but getting words to rhyme with each other is difficult, like trying to drive a herd of turkeys and kangaroos down a crowded thoroughfare and keep them neatly together without looking in shop windows. There are so many words, and they all mean something.
A little about Leonora Carrington, and a little more about her from her cousin.