When I was a kid, the Danville IL Carnegie library was my favorite hangout. I opened the imposing front doors, turned to the right, and crept down the curving stair to the basement, where Mrs. Baggott, Queen of the Children's Library, reigned supreme. It was a magical place--the place where I learned to love books and reading and people who also love books.
Fast-forward several decades to the new library, where my brother John and I spent a week last month, reading microfilmed copies of the Commercial-News, the newspaper we remember from our childhood (research work for our joint memoir). As I read and made notes, I realized how lucky we were to have such a fine local paper, back in the days when print newspapers were the primary source of local and national news. In fact, the first "hard" word I remember reading was the word Czechoslovakia, in a C-N headline. I was six or seven, reading the paper on the floor. I sounded out the word (do they still teach phonics?), connected it to a word I'd heard on the radio, and dashed into the kitchen to show my mother what I could do. It was a milestone in my reading life. And if I hadn't learned to love reading, what kind of writer could I be?
The DPL wasn't the only library I visited on my research trip. I drove from Illinois to New York state, where I spent a week at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, doing research on the letters and papers of Lorena Hickok, Eleanor Roosevelt's intimate friend. (If you've guessed that she's to be the subject of a biographical novel, you're right.) I spent all day, every day at a desk in the Research Room, with a book trolley filled with boxes of original documents. I scanned nearly 100 pages, took many notes, and came away with a greater understanding of the relationship between Eleanor and Hick (Lorena's nickname) and a head full of ideas for the novel. My time at the FDR library was too short, and I didn't cover as much territory as I wanted to. But the helpful archivists there will be copying material and sending it to me, which is the next best thing.
I'd like to settle down to writing the novel, but I can't, not just yet. Both it and the memoir have to wait until September, after I've finished the next book in the Darling Dahlias series, The DD's and the Eleven O'Clock Ladies. Looks like the rest of the year is going to be filled with writing, which is just the way I like it!
Reading note: I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.--Jorge Luis Borges
― Jorge Luis Bor