It was when the librarian told me that people have been checking out my New Wasichu, Crossing that I decided to offer a reading Thursday evening.
Arriving right on time, I followed the librarian to the back where there were a dozen chairs set up. Some older guys, my age actually, were looking over a map that they had spread on a table where I was going to stand. The librarian kindly asked them to move. “We are having an event.”
The library is an old stone building on Main, the original building, dating back to the 1880s, with the name of the town rendered in granite over the arched entrance. The interior is divided into two high-ceilinged rooms: in the front room is the service desk where you check out books. In the back room, where most of the books are shelved, there are a few computers.
These old, small town libraries hold a lot of neutral or dead space, space for books that aren’t moving. They aren’t moving because there is nobody promoting them; they have fallen out of time. Some of them are really good books, well written, well-conceived, some are even great books in their own way. So there is more space in such a library than people, if you get what I mean. And that’s the way it should be — space where a person can be alone with a book, or alone with their thoughts, alone without being alone.
And older libraries, like this one, hold space for ghosts — ghosts of writers, ghosts of patrons of former times. Not the ghosts as such, but room for ghosts. Sometimes I can almost hear the books whispering absently. It’s not a conversation, it’s the language talking to itself, passing the decades. Each book carries a valid vision or a valid fragment of a vision. Most will not be read. Perhaps the majority won’t even be picked up and leafed through. Newer libraries are culling out the titles that don’t get read to make room for new titles, but that represents enormous work. I prefer the old libraries. I like that there is space for ghosts, shelf-space for books that may never be read more than a few times over the span of a generation.
I displayed copies of my books and waited, facing the three rows of empty chairs. Occasionally someone would walk in but they would veer off and head for the stacks or begin talking with a friend in a corner with muted voice. Maybe I should have been disappointed but I wasn’t. It was partially my own fault — I had forgotten to advertise until that morning, on Facebook. (The library advertised in the local paper.) I wasn’t even sure it was the right book for this town. I had picked out parts of chapters to read that I thought would resonate, passages that wouldn’t require any explanation. Is it possible I have moved on from this book that was so central to my life for the four years I was writing it? As I considered this, I felt a little sad, but I guess it is healthy to keep moving.
I will have another book for this library’s collection soon.