My earliest memory is one of my favorite memories. We had just moved to Baltimore, and there was a branch library nears us, the Glen Falls, or it might have been called the Glen Oak Library and it had the best children's room. It was the coziest place on a dark rainy day. It even had a fireplace, in my memory and a window seat, and it was just the exactly right size for a kid. And so I have very fond memories of going to that and the other branch near our house, the Edmondson.
Libraries are huge, my mother is a children's librarian who worked at the Baltimore City School System for many years and still volunteers at the library in the small beach town near her home.
Libraries were very important to my family. We went every week. We went...at that time we moved on to the Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Library System and it was a huge deal. You went and you checked out all the books you could and you were back in a week to do it again. It was one of the big communal activities in my family.
The library I visit the most often is the Central Library in downtown Baltimore. And it's a very beautiful space. It's one that I've known, again, since I was a child. I like the fact that it's beautiful. It makes me remember, every time I walk in, what an important part of civic life libraries are. And they should be beautiful. I like older libraries, but I also love a lot of the the modern libraries that have been built in recent years.
I'm pretty much happy in any library.
Well, my mother is my favorite librarian. That's easy.If I had to pick someone other than my mother, I guess I would say it's a tie between Carla Hayden, who runs the Pratt System , who I've gotten to know quite well and there's a former Pratt librarian Kathy Harig, who now runs the mystery book store known as Mystery Loves Company in Oxford, Maryland.
I use the library a lot in my actual work. I know that people don't necessarily think of books being set in the 70s and 80s as historical novels, but they are in a sense. Even if you lived through those times, as I have, your memory of them is not the most reliable guide.
One of the things I started doing as I broadening my scope as a novelist and writing these books that had much more complicated timelines and a lot of scenes set in other decades, I began going to the Pratt and reading magazines. And the thing that I found, was that it wasn't so much the articles in magazines that were instructive about the times in which you lived in, but the advertisements.
One story I like to tell, I just sat there one day,at the Pratt, and this is so easily done at my hometown library, all of the magazines are there, they're bound, you can have them called up from...I just blanked out on what they call that place in the library where they keep everything in archives, where they're not on the floor...[the stacks?] The stacks, I had one of those moments. You can call to the stacks and very easily get whatever magazines you want from any time if they're not already on the shelf. And I was writing about a teenage girl who made a disastrous mistake when she was not even 15. One of the things that I would not have remembered, about the mid-1970s, when I was the exact same age as this girl, is that Seventeen magazine had ads for hope chests. I don't think that's something we recall about our culture in the 70s, that teenage girls still married and it was not uncommon for a girl coming out of high school to have that as her goal or her ambition.
So that's just one example of the way that going to the Pratt, reading the magazines...I read the newspaper archives all the time.
I can be quite precise about things when I want to, I also then say, I'm a novelist, I get to make stuff up. But every now and then there's a moment of serendipity. I needed my two characters to go to the movies on a particular weekend, and I checked the movie listings and I found out that the two side-by-side theaters were playing "Escape from Witch Mountain," the PG movie that you would expect two teenage girls to go see But on the other side was "Chinatown," and it was great for my purposes to have these girls buy tickets to "Escape from Witch Mountain" and sneak into "Chinatown."
[On budget cuts]
Well, I think it's short-sighted and a horrible decision. I know a lot of librarians, and one of the things that I don't think is clear to people who aren't in touch with libraries is that they're doing more than ever because of budget shortfalls. There are people coming into the libraries asking for help in writing a resume for the first time. They're asking for all kinds of services that you don't necessarily associate with a library,and librarians always provide them.
Libraries are more essential than they've ever been. In a world where information is coming at us from more different directions and in more different formats. Libraries are one of the best places to get a sense of things.
My mother was a librarian. She always said,"My job isn't to tell you what you want to know, but to guide you how to find out what you want to know." And I think one of the things, as a lifelong user of libraries, as a former journalist, I really care about the providence of information. I don't want to read Wikipedia. It's nice, it's interesting, it's a great communal thing, but to me, that's no different from when you were ten years old and you just copied the encyclopedia word for word for your paper. That's not research.
And when you know what a library has. When you know things that are archived there. My home library has some amazing things, I got a behind the scenes tour last year, and particularly, just to take one example, the information they have on H. L. Mencken, the things that you can see in my library written in Mencken's hand is unlike anything else. The idea that libraries can lead you to primary documents.
We will regret every dollar we've taken out of the library's coffers.
Personally, one of my books was banned and I was thrilled. It's great. You never get more attention then when you're a actually a banned book. I just think it's a waste of energy. I'm aware, as a crime writer, that there are people who say "Oh, such and such a novel was found in the possession of this person who ended up committing a murder." They would have found the information somewhere, somehow.
The next novel is "The Most Dangerous Thing." It is again one of those historical/non-historical novels set primarily in the 70s and early 80s about five friends with a terrible secret that will haunt them for three decades.
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