Our weekends were pretty routine growing up. On Saturdays, we’d visit my grandparents one town over, and on the way home, if we behaved, my sister and I were rewarded with a trip to the town library. (If we were really good, and it happened to be March, Mom would also throw in a special trip to McDonald’s for a shamrock shake, but that’s a different story.)
There was something special about the stacks at the Welles Turner Memorial Library. There was a mural on the stone wall near the entrance, clearly painted by children. Who were they? Why hadn’t I been allowed to join in? What had Zach L. been thinking when he painted his impressive rendition of a purple and yellow alien? Leaving the mural behind, one then entered the magical world of the library.
The first floor housed the children’s section, young adult, and nonfiction. Biographies were toward the back; books on extinct species, exotic religions, and Native American tribes were to the right. I rarely stayed in the kids’ section, despite the impressive life-size dollhouse there. I’d quickly scope out the latest Bill Peet titles before wandering into the land of non-fiction, where Benjamin Franklin and California condors awaited.
As I got older, the library became the meeting spot for my crowd, since it was within walking distance of the middle school. My friends and I would buy candy and Wacky Packages at the drugstore next door, then settle in at a table in the back of the Welles Turner stacks, amid Madeline L’Engle worlds and Judy Blume angst. Sometimes my friends would gossip about the day’s events. Mostly I half-listened, my nose buried in the adventures of Scarlett O’Hara or Jo March and her sisters. My friends talked too much. I wanted to read.
In high school, the second floor of the library became my stomping ground. Here was the land of adult general fiction, and what an impressive landscape it was, indeed. The library was too small at that time to have separate rooms for genres, but they tried: I found Douglas Adams hanging out on a spiral rack, daring me to hitchhike across the galaxy. Stephen King was buried amid the general fiction titles, but I unearthed him quickly and entered a world of telekinetic teenagers and rabid dogs. I fell in love with John Irving, Larry McMurtry, and Erma Bombeck. I devoured a book a day, and if my friends were looking to hang out, they could usually find my beat-up Ford Granada in the library parking lot, second spot in, its rusty paint job reflecting the distorted image of Zach L.’s purple alien, now chipped and fading.
As most people do, I moved away. Went to college, came home for holidays, and occasionally met old friends in town, at the library. I moved to an island. Got my library card out there, and tore through the nonfiction section, in one winter reading every single biography on their shelves. Eventually, I moved closer to home—one town over from where I’d grown up.
When my first book came out, I knew immediately where the first copy would go. I made a special trip to Welles Turner, admittedly getting lost on the way—so much had changed downtown. I pulled into the library parking lot, now completely remodeled. Zach L.’s alien was long gone. I was sad, but excited, too, to be visiting an old friend.
I made my way inside and shyly told the librarian whom I was, explaining that I’d grown up in town and had written a book. She seemed happy to accept a copy to put on the stacks. I looked around. Everything had changed. “Um, where . . . Doug Adams used to be upstairs, on the rack down the hall to the right of the card catalog,” I fumbled. “Where is he now?”
The librarian smiled kindly, and showed me the way. Mr. Adams was still upstairs, and the scuffed stairway to get to him, at least, was familiar. He and his sci-fi friends had their own room now. Things had changed.
I slid a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy off a chrome shelf and settled into an oversized easy chair. I flipped through the pages, trying to reconcile this shiny new library with the dusty, hazy stacks of my youth. A young woman, maybe half my age, bounced by me on her way to the George R.R. Martin titles.
“Great choice,” she said, eyeing my book.
“I know,” I agreed.
She plucked A Storm of Swords off the shelf and eased into the chair across from me. She didn’t want to talk. She wanted to read. So did I.
It felt good to be home again.