Just before I entered high school, the shrinking population of our county caused two school districts to consolidate. They built a new high school and bussed students in from miles away. One room of that new high school was full of empty shelves with boxes of new books sitting on the floor. Since I already knew the English teacher/librarian, and since I was a hard worker (and he wasn’t) I got to empty those boxes and fill those shelves. There is no better way to learn a library than from the ground up.
There were piles of books on science, and I read most of them. There was a copy of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land which had just been published. It would have been banned if any of the Baptists had gotten hold of it, but I was probably the only one to read it. That was the book in which Heinlein made sex seem dull. They can’t all be winners.
I graduated from high school, went to college, got married, went into the Navy, and returned to graduate school at the University of Chicago, where I got to use the Regenstein Library. Then I started writing. Wherever we went, my wife got a job at the local library — often in the bookmobile.
I has some success writing but not enough to live on, so I got a credential and made teaching middle school my day job. I kept that day job for twenty-seven years, still writing but with much diminished output. Then I retired and I went back to writing full time.
Once, during that period, the school where I was teaching had a special day in celebration of reading. My teacher friend Crystal invited several of us to talk to her class about our early reading habits.
I went to the local library and found an original copy of Star Man’s Son still on the shelf. It wasn’t the same copy — I was fifteen hundred miles from the library where I started out — but it was the same edition. It probably came off the same press the same week.
Thank God for libraries that never throw anything away. When my turn came, I was able to hold it up and say, “Here is the first book I ever checked out.” Then I could hold up copies of Jandrax and A Fond Farewell to Dying and say, “And here are the books I’ve written, because long ago I learned to love to read.”
Now I live in the foothills of the Sierras and, coincidentally enough, I am once again equidistant from three cities. Each one is a county seat, and each one has a library.
One is the city where I lived for all my teaching years. Its library is in a newer and larger building now, and the books are reasonably up to date. I go there often.
One of the other libraries is old and poor. They have lots of books, but some of them are older than I am. They have a full selection of Buchans, mostly in identical bindings from some original matched set. They have a matched set of Jules Verne, as well, and both sets are battered and worn. As I walk up and down the shelves, I see lots of books that I saw in my first library fifty years ago.
I’m glad to have a library where everything is up to date, but it is also nice to have a place where I can step back into the past, to pick up copies of those books I didn’t have time to read when I first encountered them. Not every good book was written this decade.
Now turn off the computer and go check out a book.
My hometown (pop. ~3500) library had, for reasons I have never learned, a respectable collection of Star Trek tie-ins. They may not have been the best food for a growing mind, but golly gee did I devour them. It was after I finished those and started resorting to Interlibrary Loan for more that the librarian essentially cut me off and started recommending some non-Trek sci-fi. I don’t know if she had an affection for the genre herself or if she just recommended things she’d seen on the shelves (I suspect the latter), but she put me on the right path. I don’t remember if it was Islands in the Sky or The City and the Stars, though. This failure to remember which was my first Clarke keeps me up some nights.
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Texans remember their first horse. Kids remember their first dog. Some of us remember our first library.
Incidentally, The City and the Stars is a re-write of an earlier book. Click Arthur C. Clarke on the tag cloud and you can’t miss the two posts on the subject. I read C&S in 1964 when the teacher/librarian I mentioned yesterday had to do a book report on it for a class he was taking at the local college, and passed it on to me. He was a great friend to me, but man was he lazy.