Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bookstores, New and Used, Libraries, Branch and Main, Books, Books, Books

For individuals with a marked preference for reading, there is something bordering on the magical to be found in even the most humble and simplistic bookstore or library.  

Of course large, well-stocked bookstores and enormous libraries carry the magical aspects well along the way to the transcendental.  They are not bound by shelf and space limitations; they can carry books reaching back into times well past the current publishing season and the reach you've become accustomed to in your association with publishers.

More than once, you've gone to a bookstore or library when your inner life was at a bit of a nervous churn, in which you wrestled with a simple basic of wanting to encounter the one book that would solve your inner unrest.  More than once, the bookstore or library provided the distraction of discovery in which there were two or three or even four books promising to solve existential and emotional problems along with those of general unrest and malaise.

Thus began your lifelong association with both, first as a mere, awed reader seeking answers, then as a mere awed writer/adult, seeking answers, later, still as a place where a pilgrim could go when the inner churn was making strange noises.

The first library of significance for you stands today, across the street from the school you did not go to, Los Angeles High School, on a one- or two block side street called Mullen Avenue.  Being able to take yourself there, on your own bicycle, was your first memorable sense of being out in the world, to some degree in control of your destiny.  

As such, the Mullen Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was of a nature of your first love. The romantic name of the Not even the great, towering vaults of the UCLA Powell Library could make you forget it, nor the British Library where, if you stood quietly, you imagined you could hear the poets and essayists and novelists you grew up reading in the bookstores and libraries of your adventures.

Your association with bookstores is not complete without your tribute to the used bookstores you pursued, beginning at about age eighteen and extending well into present times.  Your quests have changed over the years, moving along from anthologies, collections of short stories and essays by multiple authors, into the adventure, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy magazines printed on the rough, untreated paper called pulp.

True enough, you spent considerable time in pool halls, trying to master the sweet geometric physics of the pool, billiards, and snooker tables, practicing to achieve a breakthrough in vision and ability that would allow you a sense of mastery.  But you accomplished no such mastery, and perhaps that was because you had the interest for it, but not the hunger.  You spent more time in used bookstores, trying to educate yourself, then trying to find ways to a measure of mastery, because you recognized the hunger for that kind of mastery.

Tonight, you are standing in one of your favorite bookstores, a place where you often come to browse with no particular goal in mind, although you have, in fact, spent considerable sums on books as well.  You are here for the signing of a book you edited, and when you make eye contact with the author, some smiles, mouths the words to you, "I owe you a pie."

The publisher of the book is also here.  He happens to have published two of your books and is pressing you for two more, which gets you to thinking in that magical kind of way of a number of books you are pressing yourself to write,  As well, you see books you wish to read, in fact, feel you need to read.

As you begin looking for one such title, a senior clerk bumps into you.  "I was just thinking of you, earlier this evening when I was shelving a new book about Christopher Isherwood, in which he speaks of the time you drove him back home to Santa Monica after a speaking engagement here." Another clerk happens on the two of you.  "I can't believe,"  she says, "you haven't had a book signing here."  At which point, your publisher appears, thrusting a plate of cookies and grapes at you.  "It's settled," he announces. "You're scheduled."

A few minutes later, your literary agent appears, looking with emphasis at her watch.  "You'd have at least two, maybe three more hours of writing time, if you left now,"  she says.

It all seems to friendly, so right, so comfortable.  "A few more minutes,"  you tell your agent. 

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