Pam Houston

Pam Houston: 'Libraries entirely created my love of reading'

Libraries entirely created my love of reading

Well, I was an only child in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to much older parents and I spent almost my whole childhood at the Bethlehem Public Library reading books that were older than my age group. I guess just hanging out there, I spent years, literally, years, junior high, high school at the Bethlehem Public Library.

Well again, my parents weren't big readers and we had, like I think, one old chewed on copy of "The Valley of the Dolls" in our guest room, or something, which I read, of course, when I was ten.

So libraries entirely influenced, entirely created my love of reading and in particular the Bethlehem Public Library.

I had a fantastic babysitter named Martha Washington who taught me how to read by paying me a nickel to read a road sign or a cereal box or a milk carton. So I actually could read when I was three, three-and-a-half.

I read very early and so right then, my parents started dropping me off at the library and I think I probably read every book in the children's and young adult and eventually literature section of that library before I graduated from high school.

My father wanted me to be a tennis player, like Chris Everett. He actually wished that I were Chris Everett. And my mother wanted me to be an actress. She was an actress... and I do you have a teeny bit, not so much today, but I have a teeny bit of the comic timing that made her think...and that's helped my writing. But no, they were very surprised and somewhat alarmed by my decision to become a writer.

Well, I teach at the University of California, Davis and that gives me access to the whole UC Davis Library System, which has kind of become my main library hang out these days, although there are certain libraries that I love, particular little libraries like the very, very beautiful library in Basalt, Colorado is just a wonderful place to sit and read.

And also the town I used to live in, Winter Park Colorado, has a great little library that was funded, and I love this story, by two of the most eligible people in town, who had both sworn to never get married, got married to raise money to open this beautiful library in Fraser, Colorado, which is a very small town, but these two people, Annie Von Drasic and David Abramoff, got married and everyone donated tons of money to see that actually happen, the wedding, and they were able to open a lovely library, where I've read, in Fraser.

[On budget cuts] I haven't thought in particular about library budget cuts, but in general being part of the UC System I'm up against budget cuts for literature and the arts constantly and you know, I think it's a sign of everything that's wrong with our culture.

I fear what will happen when there's no money for books and art in general, and we seem to be heading that way and I mean honestly, it seems to me like we're tumbling over this waterfall that will never come back from.

[On censorship] I think it's awful yes I mean I'm lucky to live in California, teach in California, and live in Colorado and for us censorship is not an issue in either of those places, that I'm aware of. It's possible that it's creeping into Colorado from neighboring states, but I don't know of it, if that's true. And because I teach in California, we don't have that problem there.

I mean it... I can't say anything that hasn't been said better somewhere else, but it's appalling, absolutely appalling.

You know, there was a time when "Cowboys" first came out, my first book, "Cowboys Are My Weakness," and there were some... I got some hate mail. I got a lot of hate mail.

The suggestion was: I wasn't a good enough feminist, because I wrote this book that had these bad boyfriends in it. You know, at the time I said "What is feminism? You know, what is feminism except every woman's right to tell her own story, and what is freedom except every person's right to tell their own story?" And so, I think it's so horrendous as to be almost inconceivable.

[On current projects] Well, I'm sort of waiting for one. The book that's about to come out is called "Contents May Have Shifted." It goes all over the world, tries to learn some things from other people in the world. It's almost kind of a photo album of all these different snapshots of... the narrator who goes around and tries figure out how to live a bigger life by learning from other people and places. So that's one reason I'm against censorship. That's what this new book is.

But, of course, now that this new book is sitting there on the table, I need a new project, and honestly, I'm fishing around. I went to Mongolia I had to have to write a big article about that trip. It was an amazing trip. I just wrote a piece about alcoholism, having alcoholics as parents for an anthology, but I'm mostly just writing shorter pieces while I figure out what my next big project is.

Creative Commons LicenseAll author videos are available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. We encourage libraries and library supporters to reuse this content and ask only that you provide a link back to the website. To request a copy of an author video contact the ALA Office for Library Advocacy at

Library Name: 

Bethlehem (Pa.) Public Library