“Oh, you wrote that book. I’ve been waiting to get it from the library.” Someone said this once. A more common refrain is, “I’m waiting for the paperback.” I must admit to feeling disappointment when I hear this. Vintage is my first book. Every additional sale counts for a lot in this stage of the game. But in truth, the mere fact that they’re considering reading something I’ve written, even if they’re just being polite, is an honor. And I can’t recall ever buying a hardcover from a debut author before, at least unless I knew the writers personally. And even then I felt like I was doing them a favor.
Which brings me back to libraries and that opening line: I’ve been waiting to get it from the library. The greedy, lizard-brain part of my author-self will automatically respond to such a potential reader by thinking, why don’t you just go buy it, you cheap bastard? Help me out a little here, pal.
But when I stop and think about it some more, checking out a book from a library is a great way to support writers, not to mention reading in general. I can think of no greater democratic (small ‘d’) institution on the planet than the public library. For those of us who read things, libraries are our churches. And to have a hardcover book with my name on it on the shelf, wrapped in crackly cellophane, is no small thing. It gives us a sense of permanence in a physical world where no single cell in our bodies lasts more than seven years. It’s our little flickering candle in the great big cathedral of letters. Granted, our book may flop, languish un-checked-out and destined for a sale price of fifty cents at some fundraiser book sale in the near future. But it can just as easily hide away on the shelves for decades, awaiting discovery.
The first work of fiction I recall discovering at the library was The Cave of Time by Edward Packard. I was five years old. While that Choose Your Own Adventure book looks slender now, I recall how huge it felt in my hands back then. At the time it was my War and Peace. I was proud of myself for reading something on my own that felt like a chapter book. The rest of the series soon followed, and from that moment on I eagerly combed the shelves of the Richton Park Public Library for all manner of books.
The latest book I discovered at a library was Arthur Phillips’s Prague. I was checking out travel books on the city of Prague for an upcoming trip. I always try to grab a novel set wherever I’m traveling to read on the way. The title of Phillips’s book was quite conveniently listed at the head of my search results on my local library’s terminal. Never mind that the book is actually set in Budapest and has nothing to do with Prague, it’s still a wonderful book with striking imagery and language, plus a character, an elegant, elderly jazz pianist named Nádja, who I’ll probably never forget. If libraries didn’t exist, I would never have discovered this book. And now that I have, it’s not unreasonable to assume that I’ll get another of Phillips’s novels someday, perhaps even paying for it.
So libraries serve as a vector of discovery as well as giving authors a quiet little slice of shelved permanence in a world of churning information overload. But they do a lot more. They also buy books. They buy hardcovers, which is very helpful for writers. According to the WorldCat, the global network of library catalogs, there are copies of Vintage in 354 libraries around the world. That’s a lot of hardcovers sold, at least it seems so to me. Some of my favorite libraries on the list are the Alexander Library in Perth, Australia, which is officially the farthest from my home town, at 9100 miles. There isn’t even an official Australian publisher for Vintage yet, but there it is, on a shelf on the other side of the world. The book’s also in the U. S. Army European Region Library in Heidelberg, Germany. How cool is that? And then there’s Singapore. And Kankakee, Illinois and Whangarie, New Zealand, both of which have such fascinating names.
Browsing through the list of libraries is humbling, and it’s a reminder what a huge service to writers and readers libraries provide. No writer should ever feel miffed when someone tells them that, instead of buying their book, they’re waiting to check it out at the library. And readers should know that, with every swipe of their library card, they’re doing writers a favor.
That being said, you can buy Vintage at any of the fine vendors below: