Libraries are the torch of the world

This is going to be a long post. It is also going to have a call to action. So please keep reading. And if you can’t keep reading then start at Second Piece of Business.

I know I have been remiss in my blogging lately. It has been like some writing zombie video game—“Night of the Living Deadlines”—in which I put down one only to have another shamble in to take its place while my pals, “Shaun of the Dead” styles—shout out “Oy! 2:00! Short story! Short story!” “Look to your left—novel! Very late!” “Coming up from under—BEA speech! Pull the trigger now, now, now!”

Yeah. Very relaxing. On the plus side, there’s a whole lot of writing going on and that makes me happy. On the down side, there’s not a whole lot of sleeping or socializing going down. In fact, none. Also, I wouldn’t stand too close to me. Whooo-eeee.

There’s much I want to discuss with all of you, and some of that will be coming in subsequent blogs. (Bear with me—this novel is due ASAP. Short story revision also due ASAP. There’s also the matter of that Printz speech and I don’t want to have to rely on my rusty, third-grade puppetry skills and my uncanny ability to make fart noises with my hands. Though I hear this is what makes Philip Roth such a dynamic party guest.*) A lot of what I’d love to discuss comes from the prickly things poking up through the cracks of this new novel, which has been, yes, difficult, as all novels are, but also a blast to write. Really, I don’t know what to make of those pirates. They’re like a glamrock Gilbert & Sullivan operetta gone wrong. And Miss Texas…sigh. Was there ever any doubt she’d be an oddball?

This book has also raised many questions for me, which is one of the joys/frustrations/joys of writing a book. It stops you. Makes you think. Makes you question your assumptions. It’s like that line from my all-time favorite song: “And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” (Bonus points if you know the song, though you could Google that line in two seconds for the answer.)

I also had the pleasure of attending BEA this past week, getting to be on a panel moderated by the lovely Barbara Genco of NYPL and featuring the awesome & funny & smart stylings of Ms. Lizzie Skurnick (rockin’ columnist of Jezebel’s Shelf Lines column and of the book, SHELF DISCOVERIES: The Teen Books We Never Stopped Reading), Ms. Jennifer Bailey Hunt (she who edited Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN among others) and Ellen Loughran, children’s librarian extraordinaire and professor at Pratt (who won points for saying right up front that she was a New Yorker and so would talk fast!)

After, I got to spend time with some truly amazing people: independent booksellers where I received an IndieBound Indies’ Choice Honor Award for Going Bovine and for Most Engaging Author. (!) Totally makes up for my awkward social misfit adolescence. Oh wait, I’m still an awkward social misfit. But hey, I have some coolio awards! It’s no secret that I love independent bookstores. I worked in one—Little Professor Bookstore near the UNT campus in Denton, TX—while in high school, and I loved having access to ALL THOSE BOOKS (swoon). It was where I discovered some of my favorites. (It also gave me a chance to read the soon-to-be-pulped issues of Italian Vogue, not going to lie.) The thing about independent bookstores and libraries are that they foster a sense of community, they are an investment in people. More on that in a moment.

First, one piece of business:
Thursday, June 3rd 6:00 PM Books of Wonder
Book talk/signing with Libba Bray and Karen Healey, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD
The wonderful Karen Healey will be visiting us from New Zealand to talk about her first novel, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD. I loved this book. It is creepy and fascinating and sexy and disturbing. Since we are pals, she asked if I would hang with her for the event. So come on down if you are in the area. You will definitely want to read Karen’s book and meet her (she is scary smart). Plus, she has a fantastic accent.

Second piece of business:
Our libraries are in trouble. Budget cuts are decimating staff and services. This is a crime on so many levels. It especially galls me to see this happening as I watch my beloved Gulf of Mexico, where I spent my childhood playing in the waves of South Padre Island and my college years visiting places along the Louisiana/Mississippi coast, being completely ruined by British Petroleum. I do not have sufficient words for my rage and despair at this, at their utter disregard for the environment and for the people who live and work there. Every day, there is some new bit of corrupt, immoral finagling and responsibility shirking and complete idiocy on BP’s part that makes my blood pressure soar.

How does this relate to libraries and independent booksellers, you ask? The deregulation of Big Oil has allowed this to happen. Profits before people. Meanwhile, the little guys, the folks who can say to you, “I know a book that will appeal to your Goth-musical-loving-volleyball-playing-opera-listening teen” (indie booksellers) have a rough go of it to make ends meet. And now, libraries, the temples that provide services to children learning to read, that serve the underserved, that provide free computer access to single parents and laid-off workers trying to stay afloat and get ahead, that are open and welcoming to college students who need to study, that provide free and open access to information to ALL HUMAN BEINGS are in dire, dire straits. Libraries face unprecedented cuts in funding and staff, and many libraries are being closed due to these cuts. Right, because we need to spend massive funds to clean up some Darth Vadar-like corporation’s mess in the Gulf rather than spend money on keeping our libraries open.

I don’t think I can say it any more eloquently than my pal, Jo Knowles, did in this blog:

When I was a small child, my parents supported Cesar Chavez’s grape boycott. They did this in support of the United Farm Workers who were asking for decent wages and living conditions. Later, they also boycotted Nestle because of their baby milk campaign.
At the time, I just wanted some chocolate chips and grapes. I didn’t understand what this was all about. I asked my parents who explained and then said this, “Sometimes you do something because it is the right thing to do.”

Sometimes you do something because it is the right thing to do.

Few things feel more right to me than supporting our libraries, especially in their time of crisis. We are as strong as our libraries. Free and open libraries are the backbone of civilization. And we’re going to have to fight, I mean really fight, to save them. Because I’m telling you—if they do this, if they shut down libraries, they will find a reason not to open them again. They will say, “Look, we’ve gotten along okay without these services.” But they will be wrong. So we’re going to have to say, “No. You cannot take away my library.”

So. What can you do?

1. You can contact your elected officials and let them know that cutting library budgets and closing libraries is not okay. The New York Library Association (NYLA) offers plenty of links for making a difference in your community:
2. If you live in the New York City area, you can be part of the We Will Not Be Shushed Read-In on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Army Plaza, on June 12 & 13. 24 hours of advocacy. Yes, I will be there. I’ll even bring Swedish Fish. And a book, of course. I hope you can join all of us.
3. Organize! Be creative! Host a Banned Books bake sale with Holden Caulfield cookies and To Kill A Mockingbird brownies. Stage a Libraries Kick Ass action hero play in front of your local library and sign people up to support the library. Write your elected officials. Post a video of Why Libraries Matter to YouTube. We’ve seen how things go viral. If the teens of this country got together to protest library closings—hosted read-ins across the nation—and it went viral? Well, I think that might be pretty powerful. And it’s better than doing nothing. Which brings me to point #4.
4. Believe in the power of good. It would be easy to see this corruption in the world and opt to resign. “Forget it, man, why bother?” Believe me, there are times in which I feel like I’m going to become like that artist character played by Max Von Sydow in “Hannah and Her Sisters” and live alone in a basement, making art, and grumbling about the state of the world. But we have to live in the world, and we have a choice. (That’s both the good and the bad news. ☺ ) I’m reminded of a parable I always sort of liked, if for no other reason than it humbled me and reminded me to keep my grumbly, snarky, eye-rolling self in check. I may not get it exactly right, but it goes something like this: A man dies and stands before God. He is angry and cynical. He says, “God, our people prayed for help. They’re suffering. Why didn’t you send help?” And God answers, “But I did. I sent you.” One doesn’t have to read this in a religious sense (though that’s fine, too). The point is the same: We have agency. We can help. We can be a force for good. We can stand-up and be accountable, be part of the process, because lord knows, accountability is in short supply these days. (Yes, I’m talking to you, BP.)

Libraries are a force for good. They wear capes. They fight evil. They don’t get upset when you don’t send them a card on their birthdays. (Though they will charge you if you’re late returning a book.) They serve communities. The town without a library is a town without a soul. The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libraries are the torch of the world, illuminating the path when it feels too dark to see. We mustn’t allow that torch to be extinguished.

I’m going back to writing now. But please, please, please do something to support your local library. Then come back and tell me about it. I’ll happily post your efforts.

And if you’re in the Brooklyn area, please join me and many others at the Read-In on June 12 & 13.

❤ Libba

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