At last the pub date has arrived.
Tomorrow morning Lincoln in the Bardo, the debut novel from George Saunders, goes on sale. I’m #10 on the list for one of the 17 copies coming to our city-wide library system, but it probably won’t get to my local branch by tomorrow, so there’s a copy on hold for me at a local bookstore. More on this process in a moment …
Though I don’t usually buy books anymore – and when I do, I prefer buying them from independent bookstores or my former employer, Half Price Books – in this case, I want to read it as soon as possible and so the corporate behemoth will take my money. I hope at least some of it ends up in George Saunders’ account.
On three occasions, when I lived in New York, and in D.C. and in L.A., as a member of the press and publishing industry, I had access to advance copies. It was exquisite. To have your hands on a novel before everyone else, before it can be reviewed, critiqued, analyzed and translated, before society gets its grubby fingers all over the way reading a new book feels, that’s a great thing. I miss that.
I wish I could tell the novelists that; how excellent it is to connect with their work unencumbered.
In my reviews, I struggle to avoid giving away plot points or spoilers. My reviews are more about how a book feels, how the words are cast. I am trying to discuss tone and quality of writing without giving away anything because I revere the feeling of getting into a book without knowing where it will take you.
I suppose e-readers get early access nowadays, but I still can’t get comfortable with them. They still come nowhere near the lovely feeling of a book in my hands. So …
PLEASE SEND ME ADVANCE HARD COPIES OF GREAT NOVELS.
A Word On Libraries
I’ve traveled a lot, and not like a tourist. I have moved to places to live there in order to honestly experience them. My plan was to feel what a full set of seasons in a place feels like before judging it. If, after a year, I felt it deserved more of my time, I’d stay longer. By this method I have lived in Austin, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Japan and India for many years.
The very first thing I do when I get to a new place is get a library card and like most, my greatest experience with a library system was in NYC.
For more than a century and a half writers have gone to New York City drawn by the virtues of the New York Public Library system; its depth and efficiency. With the publishing industry right there, new books make it into the system quickly.
When I was in Brooklyn, if I wanted a brand new book that I read about in The New Yorker or the Times or the New York Review of Books, I could simply ask my librarian to get it and have it sent to my local branch. For fifty cents I had my hands on the latest, hottest shit. I took full advantage of it.
There was nothing like that where I grew up. When I left San Antonio, Texas, at eighteen it was a cultural backwater and a cowtown. There were few libraries and they certainly had no such service.
But fast-forward 32 years and the SAPL system has caught up. In fact the system is all online and I can order books directly to my local branch without ever speaking to a librarian.
Still, lately, if I’m at the grocery store or bank or somewhere and I open my wallet to get my card or I.D., people have noticed my library card. These are actual responses:
- Is that a library card?
- Do libraries still exist?
- Who goes to the library anymore?
- Dude, the Internet.
or words to that effect. Often.
I cringe, smile a tight smile and reply: it’s still a great resource.
Despite that there were few branches when I was a kid here, and none nearby, my mother took us to the library like clockwork every two weeks in the summer and during the school year as necessary. My sister and I would load ourselves up with books on these trips – usually ten to fifteen each at least – and take them home and plow through them.
One of the most attractive things to me about the mother of my child, the last great love of my life, was that she had this habit herself. She always had a library card, always pushed us to get them as soon as we got anywhere we were to be living. She went regularly herself, and when our son was old enough, maintained this precious habit as a parent as much or more even than I did. I love that about her.
My old college classmate Siva Vaidyanathan writes about the crucial need for libraries and their changing role in society. He is one of the most sensible academics I know and it comforts me to know he at least is attempting to help maintain this cultural resource in a society fast becoming illiterate.
From Mark Twain:
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
To say we are becoming illiterate is no exaggeration. Videos, audio and memes of the shortest textual length are how most people consume information today.
Do yourself a favor. If you do not have a library card, google your local branch, figure out how to get there and sign up. Trust me, you will be amazed at what you find there for free. You can get movies, music, novels, instructional coursework … all for nothing.
GO TO THE LIBRARY!
Well, just counting down the hours now til I get my hands on Lincoln in the Bardo.