Friday, July 13, 2012

In a Town With No Bookstores by Owen Egerton

The essay below was originally published on What She Might Think: web-home of author Erin Pringle-Toungate

. . . I'd sneak a copy of some 
bloody horror or erotic thriller 
into a nook of the children's area 
and wish to God I could read!

Friendswood had one library. Of course, this excludes the pillow-padded, lunch-hour harbor school library which locked its door for the hottest months. In the summer you had one choice: the small, early-70's-style, green-carpeted, pale-walled, nearly air-conditioned public library. My sister and I would tag along with my mother once or twice a month. In a town with no bookstores, in a time with no internet, it was her one outlet for new writings. I found the place mysterious and overwhelming. So many books! And unlike our child-proof school libraries, the public library had adult books with dark, forbidding--and by forbidding, inviting--covers. Flowers in the Attic, Coma, Carrie. These dark books my mother or the elderly librarian (I'm sure she was nearly forty!) would snatch from my palms as if they were hot tubes of black-tar heroin.

But sometimes I'd sneak a copy of some bloody horror or erotic thriller into a nook of the children's area and wish to God I could read! I'd imagine the stories, whisper plot lines to match the covers and wonder at the weight of the pages.

As years went by, I recall other hours spent with my bicycle parked outside browsing science books and old copies of National Geographic. In those days you could check out newspapers from around the country, too. Like the post office, this place seemed to be in conversation with parts of the world I only knew from maps. This one, clumsy building was the town's nerve link to Africa, Australia, Europe. But no one seemed to care. One thing I clearly remember. The library was never crowded.

For a middle-school project, I used the library like an eager post-grad degree candidate, passionately researching how to build a kite, making weak copies from the buzzing Xerox machine and feeling incredibly scholarly. That one project was a heady experience. I had walked in not knowing something and walked out with enough new knowledge to teach my 6th grade science class a hands-on-lesson on kites.

I don't recall any guides in the library, can't picture a helpful face recommending the perfect book or new subject. I'm sure they were there, but I mainly recall the massive amount of options--shelf after shelf after shelf of hardback, mysterious texts.

I went to the library less as a teenager. Looking back, I'm surprised I didn't spend more hours there. At the time, I believed books were serious, quiet things. I believed the customary hush was not so others could read undisturbed, but so the books might sit undisturbed--like ancient, dead gods. I still believe books are serious--but they are also lusty little demons willing to yank, cut, kiss and steal. As a young man, I had yet to balance my reverence with irreverence, yet to learn that the contents of book can sing and scream.

We now live a block from a public library in Austin, Texas. Just a month ago, newly seven-years old, my daughter applied and received her first library card. I let her check out whatever books she wanted for the family. We left with a children's book on space travel, another on dinosaurs and also a collection of Thoreau's letters and Bukowski's poems. Brilliant.


Owen Egerton lives and writes in Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA. He is a performer, screenwriter, and the author of three books of fiction, Marshall Hollenzer is Driving (Writer's Club Press, 2001), How Best to Avoid Dying (Dalton, 2007) and The Book of Harold, the Illegitimate Son of God (Soft Skull Press, 2012).

Egerton is currently on his book-tour for The Book of Harold.

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