Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nostalgia, Library Style

Like all writers, the main reason I'm a writer is that I'm a reader. I grew up in East Lake, just up the hill from the old Cascade Plunge swimming pool and about a block away from the Hillcrest Sanitarium. I was also within easy driving distance of the East Lake branch of the Birmingham Public Library.

The beautiful old library was built in 1927 and served the Howard College East Lake campus. (Howard College later became Samford University, my college alma mater). I remember well the tall ceilings and the enormous stacks, full of the most marvelous, musty, mysterios tomes. I wanted to read every one of them!

One of the earliest books I remember loving was Sam, Bangs and Moonshine by Evaline Ness, a whimsical story about a young girl whose whimsical fantastical tales lead her friend into danger, forcing her to understand that fanciful thought has consequences as well as rewards. I loved it so much I later bought a copy as an adult.

I also loved a book titled The Green Poodles, by Charlotte Baker. I loved quirky British girl Fern, whose show poodle Juliet introduced the world of dog breeding and training to her American cousins. It was actually my introduction to Shakespeare, too, as Fern and her cousins named their puppies after Shakespearean characters. (And, of course, there was a dogsnatching mystery to be solved, whetting my appetite for all things mysterious).

Besides the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I used to borrow from my church library, I discovered a more adult mystery series at the old East Lake Library: Dell Shannon's Luis Mendoza police procedural series. Discovering this odd, gritty series featuring a Mexican-American Los Angeles police Lieutenant and his stable of detectives addicted me to mysteries and police procedurals. I think they've also had an enduring influence on the kinds of books I write today.

It was an introduction to a city I'd heard of but really knew nothing about, and the Luis Mendoza mysteries displayed both the beauty of the glittery town of Los Angeles in its sixties and seventies heyday as well as the darker, seamier side of Tinseltown. It taught me a really good lesson about verisimilitude in my storytelling. Even if I'm writing about a fictional town rather than a real one, I try to create a place with its own character and history. I want it to feel as real as Dell Shannon's Los Angeles feels to the readers of Luis Mendoza mysteries.

And I also discovered Harlequin romances at the library. One of my earliest was Gone Before Morning by Lilian Peake. Though the hero was a brooding alpha who didn't always treat the heroine the way he should, I was sucked in by the hooks--a heroine pretending to be someone she wasn't, a somewhat misogynistic hero with a good reason for being so, and a troublesome little moppet in desperate need of a mother's love. Plus, the heroine had been an English Lit major who'd had trouble finding a decent job with that kind of degree--something I would later in life sympathize with a lot more than I did when I first read the book.

I read as many of Lilian Peake's books as I could get my hands on, then Elizabeth Hunter, Anne Mather, Betty Neels, Debbie Macomber, and finally—FINALLY—I discovered Harlequin Intrigues and knew I'd found the kind of stories I wanted to write.

So, you may ask, what brought about this bout of nostalgia now? Well, my eighth Harlequin Intrigue, Bachelor Sheriff, came out this week. The story reunites a pair of people who'd been polar opposites in high school--the nerdy brainiac girl with a dark family secret and the handsome, popular football star from a loving family who barely knew the girl existed. When a mysterious arson fire brings them back into each other's orbit, Aaron Cooper discovers that Melissa Draper, the girl he can barely remember from high school is quickly becoming the woman he can't get out of his head.

Over the course of the story, both of them get to indulge in a little nostalgia, which led me to think about my own past, and especially the wonderful library that introduced me to a passion for books that would eventually lead me to my career as a writer.

So, readers and writers--do you have some library nostalgia to share? Or maybe it was a favorite bookstore or a family members whose wall of bookshelves proved a temptation far too powerful to resist. Tell us your favorite book memories.


Jeanie said...

I went to a small public school in northwest Florida, grades first through twelfth. My mother was the Senior High English teacher and had a faculty meeting every Monday after school. While the adults met, I hung out in the school library. As you can imagine, in the course of 12 years, I read pretty much everything they had.

I remember being in the 6th or 7th grade and wandering the familiar shelves. A strange title jumped out at me from the stacks. It was THE HOBBIT. I took it home and absorbed it. Our library didn't have a copy of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, so I didn't discover the rest of the series until much later.

The school librarian was a little old maid. She refused to let me read GONE WITH THE WIND without written permission from my mother because of the staircase scene and the word 'damn' in it. Hee hee. My, how times have changed!

The drugstore in my home town had a small section of paperbacks for sale. It was there I stumbled upon Georgette Heyer and her Regency Romances. A new paperback book was 75 cents at the time. Probably shouldn't tell that, as it ages me.

Although I lived in the country, on Saturdays my mom would take me to the library in town, which was five miles away. I read lots of books there, too. The ones that stand out from my childhood are LITTE WOMEN, LITTLE MEN, and JOE'S BOYS, THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW, HEIDI, THE LITTLE PRINCESS AND THE SECRET GARDEN.

And there was a book I loved from Scholastic Books called BABY ISLAND, about two sisters that are marooned on a tropical island with a bunch of babies. It was a kind of funny, sweet survival story and I loved it. I also remember LOVING MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Books have always been my friends!

Paula said...

Oh, I loved Little Women. Read it a dozen times at least.

I also loved Trixie Belden mysteries, I think because she was only 13 when the series started, and I was only a few years younger than that when I discovered them, so I identified with her more than with Nancy Drew and her older teenage friends.

I also used to love the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries--I guess my inner mystery writer was coming out to play even way back then. :)

Woni Lawrence said...

Beautiful, Paula.

Growing up two doors down from you, I can testify to your love of reading. The time we all spent at what is still my favorite library and the stacks of books we brought home and devoured from there is what laid the foundation for my little bookstore.

Seeing you mention SAM, BANGS, AND MOONSHINE put a huge smile on my face. I vividly remember where I was the first time I read this book: sitting on one of the twin beds in the blue bedroom you and Patty shared. The story was great, and the illustrations were hauntingly beautiful.

I also remember reading it to my children for the first time. They loved it as much as we did.

When I was making a list of books to order to stock my store, I had to revise it many times due to my limited budget. I made sure that book was never removed from the list along with the Flick, Ricka, Dicka and Snip, Snap, Snur books that were a favor in my household. I've had to re-order it many times since because it continues to be a favorite.

Thank you for sharing this. It made my day.


Callie James said...

The library was my favorite section of school and where I spent most lunches developing my passion for books.

Great blog, Paula. Lots of memories.

Paula said...

Woni, wasn't that library the best ever? I think it was the fact that it was so old and had so much character--it actually seemed like a setting in a book!

I read that it's closed for renovation. I wonder what they're doing to it?

Paula said...

Callie, I don't think I ever went to a school with a good library until I went to college. I loved the Samford Library--tons of information and special collections.

Cari Hislop said...

I loved my local library. It was peaceful and blissfully quiet (the librarians were very strict about keeping it that way). I have memories of standing at the counter with my mother and looking up at the counter top high above me feeling frustrated and then over the years gradually finding it closer until I could look into the eyes of the librarian who'd been there all those years. I loved the smell of books and the unknown stories waiting to be discovered.

Libraries have been such a huge blessing in my life. It makes me sad when I hear of libraries closing because of lack of funding or the powers that be don't think enough people use them. All it takes is one person to change the world (for good or ill), but they need to read books...lots and lots of books to make them think. Many people assume we can read anything on the web, but that just isn't true. There are a lot of books (and research - information) denied to the average reader due to copyright issues. To access these databases and books you have to go to a participating bricks and mortar library. There was this article I wanted to read, but to do so I have to travel 80 miles and pay around 40 dollars before I even step in the door. We need libraries, preferably lots of them. Researchers have found that young people are starting to think they don't have to learn anything because they think they can just look up what they need to know on the web so they're not learning how to think. I suspect if we're not careful we'll wake up one day to find that knowledge (even in a digital age) is once again the providence of the wealthy and powerful!

Kate Diamond said...

Love Little Women... absolutely hate Amy.

The intrigue book sounds good! I was also cracking up over the old Harlequin heroine, "Plus, the heroine had been an English Lit major who'd had trouble finding a decent job with that kind of degree."

Yes, that sounds familiar to me, too...

Paula said...

Cari, that's a timely reminder of how endangered our libraries are today. Thanks!

Paula said...

Kate, I'm one of those English majors, myself, although I actually got a job out of college that I'm still doing, more or less--working in advertising. :) I started as a copywriter, later became a media buyer and now I'm a graphic designer. Small agency, lots of hats!

I got the English degree in order to write. As it turns out, I managed to work that out--twenty years after college.

Carla Swafford said...

Love, love libraries. I remember when my elementary opened its first library. It was in a house next to the school. I was amazed by the stacks of books. I thought it was heaven on earth. Later, the county opened one in Roebuck. I was thrilled. Checked out my first romance there. Roberta Gellis' BOND OF BLOOD.

MJFredrick said...

We are so much alike it's scary. When I was a kid, my favorite place was my elementary school library. I read Lois Lenski books, and all the Little House books. My mom would buy me those books from the Scholastic flyers: Misty of Chincoteague and A Wrinkle in Time and Two Are Better Than One (about 2 best friends who write a romance!) Rereading those books is certainly a way to drop me right back in time!

MJFredrick said...

Oh, and all the Trixie Beldens, and yes, Little Women! I feel like reading that one again, actually.