My front yard, Bedlam Farm
It's wonderful for a writer to get into the world, and breathe in the threads of life. I began to look back and gather in what I have seen and heard, as I enter the last week. One of the ironies of the tour is that I have repeatedly found a group of Americans who love their work, work hard, are cheerful and empathetic and help countless people. They live modest and simple lives and unlike most Americans, they love what they do and seem to want little more than to keep doing it. They don't seek money or fame, and work in increasingly brutal conditions, assaulted by politicians, social and cultural and religous fanatics, angry budget cutters and fickle politicians.
Yet I have yet to meet a grumpy librarian, or a mean one. They don't even whine nearly as much as writers, and they have good reason. The image of formidable women hissing "sssssh" is far out of date. I pushed Random House to let me go talk about my book at libraries, and I am grateful they agreed. I went to four libraries on the book tour, two of them hastily organized talks via Facebook.
What surprised me is that libraries were the most vital, energetic, busy and crowded places that I saw. Some bookstores seemed tired to me, battered and uncertain. Some seemed forward looking, creative and prosperous. But all of the libraries were vital and busy, stuffed with people using computers, looking for work, in need of free books and audio tapes, or looking for a comfortable and welcoming place to be. I met librarians studying e-book software, downloading audio tapes, organizing literacy groups and dancing with children.
It was not what I expected. The librarians I talked to were very much in touch with real people, were open to change, and were braced for more battering by craven politicians and voters who have lost any sense of what a civilization costs.
Everywhere I went, librarians reported deep and continuing budget cuts in a country that saves banks and auto companies but cannibalizes libraries. We and our children will pay for that barrenness of soul and vision.
Going to libraries was powerful for me, like taking vitamins for the soul and mind. People there love books, tell and hear and see stories, celebrate what I do. If some of the bookstores seemed to yawn a bit -oh, another writer selling books – then the form of the conversation was alive in places like Bainbridge, Ohio, and S.Hadley, Mass.
On a book tour, the events can be rote, and very much taken for granted. That did not happen in a library. I never felt more appreciated, or invigorated by passionate questions from people who love stories. For a storyteller, that is as good as it gets.
I'm planning another tour for Rose, one I am organizing myself, a library book tour, and I've already got a bunch of invitations. I can't quite process them until after the book tour, but I can put together a pretty good Northeastern swing, and I bet I have great crowds and sell a lot of books to boot. And maybe focus some attention on this increasingly rare subculture that still love what they do. Like me.