Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Home is a Library That Knows Me

I like the Whitney Library because it has books, just like I like any library that has books. Any library is my temple because of that. But most of the books I check out from the Whitney Library are from other branches, books that I've put on hold during the week, before my usual Sunday visit, the result of deciding what I want to read the following week, what I want to research for the books I want to write, what would excite me, what would make me curious.

Whitney is an ok branch. It has a much, much larger children's section, an entire room of its own, which I've never seen in any other library I've been to, not even in Florida. It's still part of the library building, but it's its own world, with shelves of picture books just the right height for little kids to find the books they want. There's also a much smaller teen section that also has its own quiet feel, even though it doesn't have the benefit of being as removed as the children's section is. It faces part of where the most foot traffic is, a stretch between the entrance of the library and the fiction and nonfiction sections. But it is quiet enough for any bookish teens to find a sanctuary there for themselves.

Yet, this isn't my library. I don't walk in and feel truly at home. It's necessary for me, it's valuable, but it's basically a weekly refueling stop. I go in, I get the books I want, I sometimes find a title on one of the fiction shelves that I put on hold on my library card for next week, and I leave. There's no connection, no sense of closeness. Even if I spent more time than just the usual half an hour, I don't think I would find it. The closest I've felt to any part of the Whitney Library is a multi-volume set of American surnames, of which I paged through one volume to see what would make a good presidential surname for one of the novels I want to write. If I was to spend more time at Whitney, it would only be for more time with that set.

I have visited my home library twice, though. Once when we were tourists of Southern Nevada, and on New Year's Eve, which was also Mom's birthday. She wanted to visit Boulder City again, which made me deliriously happy because I consider Boulder City my true home. I love Las Vegas, I love that dreams can become reality there, that the strangest visions you might sometimes have are probably somewhere in the city. But inasmuch as I want to write for the tourist publications I've seen that tout and brag and crow about everything there is to do in Las Vegas, I'm not the kind of person who always enjoys the tumult of the Strip, the crowds, the thousands of slot machines, the millions of ways in which you can either spend or lose your money. I do know that the Strip moves more slowly than the media would have you believe, but it's not slow enough for me. Boulder City is utter peace. Boulder City moves gently. It doesn't rush for anything. It doesn't create the latest hype. It doesn't try to get you to go here and go there and eat here and play over there. In fact, gambling is still outlawed in Boulder City, as it was when it started as the first planned community in the United States, built by the government to house workers who were building Hoover Dam. No gambling, no drinking, no untoward behavior that would get you kicked off the reservation, sometimes for a day, sometimes for good, depending on the severity of what you did. Boulder City isn't that strict anymore, but development of any sort is slow because that's the way the city wants it. I love the downtown area because instead of passing by the antique shops and restaurants and candy stores you see, you mosey on by. You take your time. You enjoy what you see, and become curious about what more there is. On its own, the Boulder City Cemetery is peaceful enough, but that kind of peace is spread out through all of Boulder City. It may happen earlier, depending on the years ahead, but when I retire, I want to move to Boulder City. I don't mind how quiet the town is. I don't mind that everything pretty much closes up shop by the early evening. All I need are my books, my writing, and the promise that those stores and the downtown area entirely will be open the next day for me to mosey on through if I want.

That includes the Boulder City Library, which is part of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, but also has its own website. Its rules are more stringent than any other Las Vegas-Clark County branch, such as a maximum of four people at any table, but it makes for a far more pleasant experience, such as the one I had on Mom's birthday, with the library our last stop before we drove out of the city to search for the Hacienda Hotel and Casino, near Hoover Dam.

When you walk in, you enter a small rotunda that has pictures of Boulder City's residents, men who worked on the Hoover Dam. There's a picture of one man scaling one of the many rock walls, another slightly colored of a man standing there with construction going on behind him, and my favorite, three men having lunch. Then, hung on a wall across from where you stand is an enormous quilt portraying a tall bookcase, created by a quilting club in 2004, each section done by a different member.

When I walked into the library proper, I knew exactly what I wanted: The Nevada Room. I believe the Boulder City Library has the only room devoted to Nevada history. In this room are books about Nevada, Las Vegas, Boulder City, Hoover Dam, and the Southwest in general. There are maps and documents to carefully examine, and reference books to peruse. There are two long tables, a collection of chairs, and framed pictures on the wall showing off various aspects of Nevada's history. When I first saw this room as a tourist, I wanted to read every book I found there. I still do, and though I can't physically check out each book from that room at the Boulder City Library, I know that when I look them up in the library catalog, chances are that Boulder City will be the only branch to have that particular book.

First, however, I wanted to find one book to check out. I was returning Tooter Pepperday by Jerry Spinelli, which I had finished reading the day before New Year's Eve. I knew what I wanted to check out, but it was all more than one book. There were a few Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout that I knew the Boulder City Library had. Oscar Levant published The Memoirs of an Amnesiac in 1965, and I knew Boulder City had what felt like a first edition when I saw it. You see, Boulder City is a safe haven for old books. It's hard to find a book that's over five years old in the Whitney Library. Not in copyright, but in whatever edition it is. For example, the copy of The Betsy by Harold Robbins that I checked out from the Whitney Library was from Boulder City. It was published in 1971, and this copy looks like it was from 1971. But it's well cared for. Books seem to be stitched up there when they need to be, new binding applied, new plastic covering given. Every word, every sentence, every page is important here.

I walked passed the Young Adult Fiction section, which is in an alcove next to the entrance. There are long shelves of books there, and while I was looking for The Memoirs of an Amnesiac, I stopped to look for any of Jerry Spinelli's novels, and smiled when I spotted Love, Stargirl, which was part of a box set I bought from Amazon that included Stargirl, the first novel, and a free journal. It was the first time I bought a book before I finished it, Love, Stargirl having been checked out from the library. I knew I needed both books only halfway through the sequel.

The biography section, on the opposite side of the library, didn't have The Memoirs of an Amnesiac. When I looked it up just now, I found that it's on a holdshelf for someone else.

I went to the fiction section, which was a revelation because I didn't have to squeeze past any shelves! I could comfortably walk past them, unlike at the Whitney Library where you have to decide if it's you or your tote bag full of books that's going to go through. Here, I reached the Nero Wolfe novels without having to tell my tote bag, "I love you! Never forget me!" Not to mention that I didn't have to bring my tote bag this time because I had reached my 50-item limit on Monday, as always.

I still have Fer-De-Lance, The League of Frightened Men, The Rubber Band, and The Red Box to read. I ordered them toward the end of my trying years in Santa Clarita, and moved them here with the rest of my books. I'd rather see where I get with those four. I've always liked the series, but I only have a yen for certain books at certain times. This week would have been Nero Wolfe's time if ghost stories hadn't gotten in the way, which I want to read to see how ghost stories were told throughout literature as I plan my own novels that are in the same realm. I'll probably be influenced by a few of them, but I mostly want to figure out the blueprints for these books, how these authors did it, what kind of devices they employed.

As I walked past the "A" authors on the far left wall of the fiction section, I spotted Timbuktu by Paul Auster and immediately reached for it and pulled it down. It's about a dog named Mr. Bones and his dying companion, Willie G. Christmas, as they try to find Bea Swanson, Willie's former teacher and greatest influence in his life, so that Willie can give Bea the key to the locker at the Greyhound station that contains all his manuscripts, and so that Mr. Bones can have a home instead of having to fend for himself after Willie dies. I first read it in September 2008, as I found out earlier today on my Goodreads account, and even though I hadn't thought about it since then, it must have stuck in my mind, because I wanted to check it out to see if I wanted it in my permanent collection. Was it really that good then? That first time, it must have been.

I carried it with me as I finally approached the Nevada Room. Timbuktu was my top choice, but maybe there was something in here that I'd want more.

The Nevada Room has silent reverence toward the state it represents in the books it holds. You come in here and it feels like you can know all of Nevada just by touching the books, not even picking one up and skimming the pages. I wouldn't go so far to say that there are spirits roaming this room, but there is a definite sense of history that would excite any Nevada knowledge seeker, like me. If ever I use this as a quiet research room, I know it'll always be welcoming and exude less expectation than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library did. No one's above you in this library and in this room. It's all yours, to seek out whatever you want.

I found an anthology called Literary Nevada that I went to the computer across from the check-out desk to put on hold because I knew by this time that I'd check out Timbuktu. I wanted it again. The only other book I wanted from the Nevada Room was Walking the Twilight: Women Writers of the Southwest, another anthology, and I put that on hold too. Later, when I checked my account before we left, I found that the copy in transit to the Whitney Library was the one I had held not even an hour before. There's a lot of other books from the Nevada Room that I want to read, and I know I don't have to memorize any titles. I'll find them in the catalog and they'll quickly be familiar again.

Mom loves this library as much as I do, and it's mainly because of the magazine collection they have. I didn't count, but I estimate that the library subscribes to at least 70 magazines. At the Whitney Library, the magazine room is barely a cubbyhole and it only seems to have the current basics, such as People. Here, you can find so much more, including "Aviation Week and Space Technology," "Trains," and others I've unfortunately already forgotten, except for one.

I knew this was my library because of its peacefulness, because of its appreciation for old books, because it still has its card catalog, even though they prefer the online version. But it also does what any library worth its weight in book gold should: It knows you. The librarians may not know you all that well and the only moments you may spend with them, at least at the Boulder City Library, is when you check out books (At Whitney, you use a self-checkout system and a human is only there if you have any questions regarding your library card. For anything else, you go to the reference desk). But the library knows. The library knows what you gravitate to as soon as you arrive, what you like to read, what you're looking for.

I went down the rows of magazines on the left side of the tables and chairs in between both parts, and then the magazines on the right side. I was surprised to find "New Mexico Magazine," which, until this moment, I didn't even know existed. I took it to the table where Mom was, sat down, opened it up, and took out my phone to put names of some of the writers in the magazine and book titles into a text message in my phone to look up later.

New Mexico Magazine. In the past couple of weeks, I've let subscriptions to "Oxford American" and "Poets & Writers" run out because they didn't feel like they fit me anymore. I like the writing in "Oxford American," but I'm not in the South anymore. Not that that's any reason not to read Southern writing, which I still do, but that's not me right now. I want to travel throughout New Mexico in the years to come. What better way to begin learning more about the state? I'm thinking of subscribing to it. $19.95 for 12 issues sounds like a good deal, better than what I'd have to pay to renew my subscription to "The New Yorker" if it was expiring now instead of September 2014.

After Mom was done with the magazines she was reading and we headed to the exit, we stopped at the new books which take up a few shelves directly across from the check-out desk. Mom was confused before because in the fiction section in the back, there were signs that said "Coming Soon" and she mistakenly thought that those were new books that hadn't been cataloged into the system yet. All of them. She hadn't noticed that under "Coming Soon" was a pair of handcuffs, and some other images related to murder mysteries.

The Boulder City Library is doing a Winter Mystery Reading Program that starts in two weeks, and it was advertised all throughout the library. This is Boulder City's own program. No other Las Vegas-Clark County branch is doing this. That's one of the signs of a strong community, that the library creates programs like this and actively promotes them. For this, there will be book discussions, and movies, and a Clue-themed party. If I was living in Boulder City, I'd go to all of it.

While looking at the new books, I found that the library knew me very well because sitting next to a book called Don't Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth C. Davis, which I put on hold after I got home, I spotted Fifteen One-Act Plays by Sam Shepard, one of my heroes. It was an expanded edition of The Unseen Hand and Other Plays, likely including more plays, possibly his latest works if there have been any. Presidents and Sam Shepard side by side, as well as another book called A Slave in the White House by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, about Paul Jennings, a slave that was born on the plantation of James and Dolley Madison, who later became part of their staff at the White House. This is the library I want for all time. This is the library that knows me well. The Boulder City Library is not a refueling stop for me; it is the sanctuary I've always wanted. I know that we're going back to Boulder City possibly in the next few months, if not sooner, but I don't know how often I'd be able to get to this library otherwise. Boulder City is only 12 miles from where we are in Las Vegas, but it feels like another world, another life, with a lot of hills to drive over, and a higher elevation. You can't see Las Vegas from anywhere in Boulder City. I don't feel pressured or rushed by anything in Las Vegas, but if you ever want to breathe more easily, Boulder City is where you go for a while. I'd rather be there forever. I would never be bored there. And to have a library that knows who I am, and what I want in my life, is something I cherish and hold close. After this library visit, I can't see the Whitney Library for more than what it doesn't have compared to Boulder City. That's not fair to Whitney, I know. A library with a lot of books to choose from is still good and necessary. It's what I live for. But after we left the new books, before we reached the door, we saw on a bulletin board easel that the library was asking kids to make snowflakes that would be sent to the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary. That is what community means. I know it's at the Whitney Library too, though not as easily found, but it's much stronger in Boulder City. I belong there for that reason, for many reasons.

Mom's main concern is that if we move to Boulder City, what we feel about it will diminish because we'd be there every day. I don't think so. For one, it's the one place in Southern Nevada that truly feels peaceful. But also, I've never lived in a small town.

A few weeks ago, I met another neighbor in our mobile home park, a 60-70-something woman who had lived in Minnesota all her life and moved out here for the freedom to do whatever you want because in Minnesota, she was surrounded by people who wanted to do this and do that and why don't they meet there and go to that restaurant later? Not family, not all the time I'm sure, but neighbors always in each other's business.

Boulder City has the same sense of separation that Las Vegas and Henderson do. People go on about their lives and you're doing this and they're somewhere else. For friendliness, you can't beat Boulder City. For me, Casselberry was a suburb outside of Orlando, Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines were just small cities. I feel like I can walk around downtown Boulder City and find something different that interests me every time, while always having the opportunity to go back to what I love.

There are disadvantages, such as supermarkets and bigger shopping centers not being close by. If you need to go to Target or Walmart, you have to drive for a while. The only movie theater nearby is two screens at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino and that's closed and opened a few times already, with this latest attempt seeming to be the most successful.

It's a balance, though. You have to decide what you want, what you can live with, and can live without having as often as you've had it. I don't think we'll be moving there soon, or for many years. Henderson seems more what we need right now if we move again. It's a little further from the Strip and downtown Las Vegas, but it has almost as relaxed a lifestyle as Boulder City, but with a lot more traffic and shopping centers.

There's time, years and decades, in fact. But whenever I go to the Whitney Library, or to the main Clark County branch, neither can compare to my home. It's everything I could ever want in a library.

1 comment:

  1. Boulder City sounds like my kinda place. You make me want to move, but I can't afford it.