|Carnegie Public Library, Enid, Oklahoma|
At the center of the book is the library you see pictured there--the Carnegie library in my hometown of Enid, Oklahoma, a building that opened on August 2, 1910, and fell to the wrecker's ball in July 1972.
I loved that old library. My brothers and I would ride a bus (those days are gone!) the two miles from our home to the Carnegie, where I would check out biographies of cowboys, mountain men, and Indians; where older brother Richard would check out Dickens and Tolstoy and Austen (he was still in elementary school!); where younger brother Dave would check out Dr. Seuss and Munro Leaf.
It was cooler inside. (Enid temps were often over 100 in the summer.) And smelled wonderful and strange. We'd pick out our books, present our library cards to the unsmiling censorious librarian (she made Richard go get a note from home to check out a Mickey Spillane); she would stamp the card, stamp the DATE DUE slip in the book, and off I would go for a week or so of adventure, reading about Jim Bowie, George Armstrong Custer, Crazy Horse, and my other mounted heroes.
We left Enid in the summer of 1956, and I did not learn about the library's razing for a quarter-century. I was horrified when my mother told me, They tore it down! They tore my library DOWN!
How could they? It was by far the most beautiful building in town--it seemed as if it didn't even belong there, as if it had been flown in from the Ancient World to elevate our flat prairie town. It was the symbol of all. But in July 1972, the very month our son was born, my library died.
I had originally planned to drive back there, to sit in that old building and to let the memories begin--to use that experience as the trigger for my memoir about my life with books. Now, I had another story, a story that began on the site, now an overflow lot for a nearby car dealer.
I went back to Enid several times. I researched the history of that library, acquiring microform copies of the original application Enid had made to Carnegie. I interviewed folks in Enid who remembered the building--remembered the razing. I visited local historical museums, where I saw on display a few remaining chunks of it--a bit like seeing pieces of a broken human heart.
In the meantime, I was writing about my development as a reader--from an eager elementary-schooler to a lackadaisical junior-high-schooler to a testosterone-soaked high-schooler to an erratic college student to a serious graduate-schooler to an obsessive adult bibliophagist (book-eater!). I wrote, as well, about the reading habits of my brothers, my parents, my friends.
I wrote about reading books in school (and not reading the ones I was supposed to); I wrote about cheating on a couple of book reports (oh, my besmirched soul!); I re-read all the books I remembered reading in elementary school (one of my favorites: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), in junior high (I loved sports novels then--Claire Bee, et al.), in high school (I actually read Martin Eden and Moby-Dick in study hall, for the helluvit). I re-read some books that affected me in college--assigned and unassigned texts (among the latter, Another Country blew me away).
I wrote about my book-collecting (some successes, some major screw-ups), my reviewing, my experiences with libraries.
Intertwined with all--the death of my father in 1999--a devastating experience for all of us, a loss I revisit in various ways throughout the book.
I realized, as I was writing, that if youth is about acquisition, age is about loss. And I saw the loss of my Carnegie library as a potent symbol for all.
So--anyhow--when the book is available on Kindle, I'll let y'all know (see, I am from Oklahoma!).