I think one of my favorite memories was when I was about in the fourth grade and for the first time I was allowed to going to the library on my own. My mother would drop me off and I was pretty much allowed stay there for about an hour.
The books I loved the most, however, were young adult books that were in the bottom of the library in the basement, and to get to those books I had to go past the mystery section and the mystery section not only had the word mystery but also a skull and crossbones, and that terrified me, but I knew I had to get past that to get to the books I loved.
So I would still myself for a few moments, take a deep breath and then I would dash into that section, look at the books, reading them as quickly as I could, the titles, pick out two or three and then run back out and then back up into the light. But that memory has stayed with me and I think also was an indication of how much I loved reading that I would kind of risk the fear to go there.
Because I grew up in a rural area, the library was a place where I could enter another world, other worlds. I love to browse the shelves, as I got older not all the books were down in that basement. I began to read magazines as well. Magazines such as National Geographic.
I began to read non-fiction and it was just a place that I spent so many hours. Usually Tuesday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, I would be there least two or three hours.
And as I got older, I continued to go to those libraries. It was just a memorable experience, but it was also where I first started wanting to be a writer.
There was a librarian in our town named Mrs Bridges and she was a person who encouraged reading and she actually had a list, when I was in the ninth grade, "100 Great Novels," and she posted this, and I was always a great precocious reader, so I'd read several books on there, "Huckleberry Finn," for instance, but I saw a book called "Crime and Punishment" and that book interested me, just the title, and I decided I would try to read it, and I did read it.
I did not, obviously, understand it on the level I would as an adult, but there was a scene early in that novel where a pawn broker is killed by the central character, Raskolnikov, and that scene was so vivid that for the first time in my life, I'd always felt like I entered the book but this was a moment where the book entered me. I felt that I'd been altered forever. That really, I think was the beginning of my writing career in many ways because it made me want to do something...could I create something that would have that effect on others.
I use the library extensively because i still do a lot of research. At the university where I teach we have a library whose main interest is Appalachian studies, Appalachian history and that's been invaluable maybe because so much of my work, including my new novel "The Cove" is about events that happened in the 1930s and the 1918 era in western North Carolina so library continues to be an important place to me and it's also a place where, even today, I love to go to the new book section and sometimes I'll see something I haven't read a review of, I didn't even know was out there.
So it continues to be a place of wonder for me.
[On budget cuts] I find it distressing that libraries are being cut because I think in many ways they are part of the foundation of what makes a democracy. They allow everyone, no matter your economic status, to have access to great books and I know from the experience of many of my relatives and of myself that that has been the segway to education, to wanting to go on the school, to go on to college, that love of reading, and I find it crucial as I say, to the kind of country I want to be in Libraries are seen as an important facet of our country.
[On censorship] I'm always disturbed by the attempts to ban books in libraries. I think it shows a lack of faith in the clientele, in many ways. The clientele can choose not read a book, that's fine. I do not feel like the clientele has a right to choose what others might read. I think that some of the great books that I know of have been banned. I find it distressing that very often books that at one time we would come to view as classics, at one time would be banned, so I find it as a an assault on freedom of speech.
My latest project is a book called "The Cove." It's set in 1918 in the North Carolina mountains. It's about a little known aspect of American history. During World War I there were German internment camps, not prisoner of war camps. and one of these camps was in the North Carolina mountains. And the novel deals one of these particular German-American citizens who escapes and is hunted down by a man named Chauncey Feith, who I think is very similar to many people today in our country, many politicians who want to instill fear and paranoia of people who may be different.
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