Arts/Literature

Libraries and other miracles

by Terry Hargrove

I love libraries, especially the old, creepy ones. However, most people don’t realize that libraries weren’t built to hold books. That was a function they picked up somewhere along the way, because they‘re hollow, have lots of shelves and are mostly waterproof. Libraries were built to house librarians, because librarians are the smartest, wisest people on earth, and who wants to be bothered by that? So we need a place to keep them away from the rest of us, and nothing does that so well as a library.

On December 2, 2007, I held my second ever book signing at the library in my hometown. This was six months after my first book signing, when I actually sold seven books. Maybe I should have made some commemorative t-shirts, I thought. I had 30 books this time and arrived at the library an hour early. Some of my fans might have driven a long way and brought shopping lists, so I wanted to be prepared.

But from the beginning, I had a bad feeling about that event. I walked up to the main desk and introduced myself. There were two librarians up to their elbows in returns.

“Oh, Mr. Hargrove,” said one. “We weren’t sure you were coming. You see, there is nothing listed on the main calendar about your appearance.”

“Nothing at all,” added the second librarian.

“I don’t understand,” I muttered. “I spoke to the Director several weeks ago…”

“Oh, yes! Yes, the Director,” said the first librarian. “She has been sick.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“And, she’s been moving!” added the second librarian.

“Well, then I’m truly sorry,” I said. “Nothing is more stressful than moving. But I’m here now, and I have my books, so just tell me where to go and I’ll get everything ready.”

“We can open up the Grand Hall, I think,” said the first librarian. The Grand Hall! I liked the sound of that. “But, umm, what exactly do you mean when you say you will get everything ready? What are you planning to do to our Grand Hall, Mr. Hargrove?”

“I was just going to put out a few chairs,” I said. “And maybe a table. Some refreshments. Cookies?”

“We keep four chairs out in the Grand Hall at all times,” was her reply. “There’s already a table there. Do you think you’ll need more than four chairs and one table?”

“Well, I hope I will,” I stammered.

“Hope, Mr. Hargrove?” she said, and she cast a curious stare over me. The Librarian’s Stare. It was the closest I’d ever come to being attacked by someone with super powers. I was mesmerized, and could neither move nor speak. I felt an overwhelming desire to give her all my loose change for overdue book fines. “This is a library, Mr. Hargrove. It is a place that was built to contain hope and dreams and the real with the unreal. Every book we keep was written by someone who hoped it might sell a million copies. Do you know how hard it is to write a book that sells a million copies, Mr. Hargrove?”

“Umm. Pretty hard?”

“And when a book sells a million copies, what then, Mr. Hargrove? Does the writer churn out an eternal list of sequels, each more base than the one that came before it? Or does the writer put down quill and pen, and leave the world’s readers to forever dwell upon the great works that he or she could have written? Harper Lee wrote one book. Margaret Mitchell wrote one book. Joseph Heller wrote one book.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “Joseph Heller wrote more than one book.”

“He should have stopped at one,” she said. “Here is the Grand Hall. Here are the four chairs we’ve placed for everyone. Here is a rack to hang your hope on, Mr. Hargrove. Best of luck to you. And remember, if you sell only one book, that is a great thing. A grand thing. Almost a miracle. There isn’t any real difference between selling one book and waving a magic wand to make money appear. Your stories came from nowhere, yet people give you money for them. If you sell ten books then you will be filled with a desire to write something better the next time. If you sell a hundred books, think of the effect you will have on the world. A voice that speaks for all time, an echo on the electronic web, singing forever.”

“I hope I sell a mill… I mean, a hundred!” I said.

“Hope and it might be so,” she said. “Of course you’ll find hope in here, along with many other things. But people seldom waste hope on what they need. Rather they expend hope on what they want. There is a difference. So I ask again, do you think you’ll need more than four chairs and one table?“

“No, ma’am.”

“And when you leave, would you mind taking a few letters to the post office for me? They won’t let me out, you know.”

“No problem.”

Over the next two and a half hours, I met hundreds of folks who braved frigid temperatures and holiday traffic to come to Old Saybrook and buy a copy of my book. I’m lying. Only three people came. I did meet Gary and Charlene who drove all the way from Wallingford. They already had a book, having purchased it from Amazon.com, which I signed. They asked to have their picture taken with me, and that was the greatest compliment anyone has paid me in a long time.

At 4:00, I packed up my books and walked to the exit. The librarian who had spoken to me about hope was nowhere to be seen, but I had her letters. They sat on top of the unsold copies that were going into the trunk of my car. When I walked into our home, my wife asked if my second book signing had been successful.

“It was great. It was grand,” I said, and I meant it. “Almost a miracle.”

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