Mystery, They Wrote

Earlier this summer Laurie R. King introduced the newest in her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series – The Language of Bees. As part of the promotion leading up to the big release, she did a bunch of stuff like guest-blogging, releasing bits and pieces of the early chapters of the book from first draft to final, and running contests. King is not alone in this type of promotion – many internet-savvy authors are taking advantage of the Internet to promote their books. What makes King very different, though, is that she hasn’t abandoned those who helped in those early days – librarians.

So, even though Laurie King could draw huge crowds for bookstores, in every city she visited, she also spent time at the local library chatting with readers about her book. And then there was the essay contest where she asked readers to write an essay about what a library means to them. To the winning library King donated a hardcover edition of each of her Russell/Holmes book.

So no, I didn’t write an essay, but the contest got me to thinking about libraries and what they mean to me. I grew up in Chicago, a city with a huge main library and many, many branch libraries.

My first recollection of those hallowed halls is that they would let me take out a huge number of books in the summer. My parents and I would go to Miami every July for two weeks from the time I was 9ish to when I finally convinced them that my job as a day camp counselor required that I stay in town. Yes, you heard it right, Miami in July. The plant my dad worked in had a summer shutdown and that was the time everyone took vacations. And to my middle class parents, Miami was an indication that they were successful. So for a number of years we drove to Miami starting on the 4th of July weekend. Those were the days well before air conditioning in automobiles, so the windows were open the whole way and hot summer air buffeted my hair against my face as I read.

It was joyous – a huge stack of borrowed books and my own comic book collection stacked on the floor next to me in the back seat. The three of us barreling down the highway in the ’59 Chevy (grey and white), me in the back seat with my nose in a book.

By the time I graduated from grade school we had moved to the northwest side of the city and we were lucky enough to have a very small branch library across the street from our condo. Two steps and I was there. It was in that library that I discovered adult books. Perhaps I looked old enough to the librarian that she never questioned my selections. Erle Stanley Gardner, Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald, and John D. MacDonald all helped me hone my interest in the mystery genre.

Those libraries saved me over and over again. Books were the one interest that has stayed with me since I learned to read. There is just no feeling in the world like opening a new book. It’s the smell, the feel of the pages, the crisp sound as they turn. That feeling of embarking on a journey, entering the unknown… it still takes my breath away.

Up here in Door County we have a great library system, one of the best. I serve on the Friends of the Door County Libraries Board of Directors, and I’m so pleased to do my bit to be able to pay back in some small way for all the hours of enjoyment that libraries and librarians have brought into my life. When you think of what libraries provide at no cost to the public, it’s absolutely amazing. There are videos, audio tapes, CDs, magazines, newspapers, loads of reference materials, public computers and books, gazillions of books. The inter-library loan system up here is tremendous – you can get just about anything you need or want in just a few days.

And there is this wonderful service offered, called Walking Books. If you can’t get to the library or are living in an assisted living/nursing home facility, you can just call the library and someone will bring you the books you’re interested in. And then come back and pick them up when you’re done! I haven’t even touched on all the events that the Friends and the Library sponsor – author events, children’s events… It’s amazing.

In times like these, when many families find it hard to purchase books, the library and its book sales can put books in the hands of those that need them. You may not be able to go to Venice this year, but can sure see it through the eyes of Donna Leon. A vacation in England may be beyond your pocketbook, but any number of British writers like Reginald Hill, P.D. James, or Peter Robinson can take you there in an afternoon.

Libraries and librarians are pushed to the edges of their spending limits now – more people need libraries than ever before. So, if you have a spare moment, give of your time to your local library; if you have a spare book, donate it to your local library; if you have a spare dollar, write a check.

We need libraries in our lives. They offer us a view outside ourselves and a respite from the craziness. Laurie R. King dedicated The Game to librarians, “who spend their lives in battle against the forces of darkness.” Please help if you can.

And, as always, enjoy the mystery…