Paul Doiron here—
This is National Library Week and a fitting moment to honor our endangered community treasures.
Like most people who become authors, I spent a great deal of my childhood in libraries. For great swatches of my life, they were my favorite places in the world. When I look back, I realize that libraries were places where my life took unexpected sharp turns, where I learned profound lessons about myself and the world. You could sketch my literary biography simply by listing them:
The Scarborough Public Library—Then located in an old building on the Black Point Road, it was where I discovered the adventure “histories” of Edward Rowe Snow who taught me that the town where I lived, with its real Indian wars and shipwrecks and “haunted” islands, was as enchanted in its way as Middle Earth.
The Scarborough Junior High School Library—Where I listened obsessively to the audio tape versions of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, checking them out over and over, until the librarian forbade me from doing so, in order to give other kids a chance to scare themselves out of their wits.
The South Portland Library—Where the librarian often expressed disappointment in my selection of books—Chariots of the Gods and The Late Great Planet Earth—not realizing that I was sharpening my critical reading and analytical skills, teaching myself to recognize dreck, but not being embarrassed to enjoy wild-eyed stories either.
The Cheverus High School Library—Where I was studying when the news came over the public address system that Pope John Paul I had died; a place, too, where I came to appreciate my Jesuit teacher’s commitment to intellectual rigor and debate, as exemplified by the fact that its shelves now contains my novels, with all their dirty words, shootings, and sex scenes.
The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University—A veritable of cathedral of books, where I spent hours wandering amid the musty carrels. It was a place many of my classmates used only grudgingly at semester’s end for research (or as a rendezvous spot for sex among the stacks). But to me, going from shelf to shelf, it was like free associating my way through the sum total of human knowledge.
The Portland Public Library—Where, as an angry but ambitious young man in my twenties, I discovered the subversive, controversial work of other angry, ambitious men: Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller, Henry Miller, J.P. Donleavy. It was where I decided, once and for all, to become a writer or nothing, and where I came to understand that one of the good works novelists can do is to attempt to tell hard truths about human nature to people who’d rather not hear them.
The Rockport Public Library—Where I would sneak away on my lunch hours from Down East, reminding myself that reading wasn’t just part of my work, but also a way to entertain myself, and where I found a friendly library staff who supported me on the long road from aspiring novelist to bestselling author and who toasted my success with one of my first book parties—an event no one realized was as important to me as it was.
The Bailey Public Library in Winthrop—A smallish library where I packed the house on my book tour for The Poacher’s Son and realized that a modest community library, staffed by enthusiastic professionals and supported by book-loving patrons, can have a much larger soul than the biggest municipal or university institution (and where I will be reading from my second book on August 17, by the way).
I’ve lived many other places and enjoyed many other beautiful and friendly libraries, so this list is by no means exhaustive. But these are a few of of the places where I came to understood myself in new and surprising ways.
What are the libraries of your life?