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We Are All Wyveraries: A Love Letter to Libraries
undestructable
catvalente

I gave a talk to a hall full of librarians organized by the School Library Journal last night (what do you call a group of librarians? A kindness?). Many of them asked me to post it afterwards–here it is. I try not to disobey librarians. They have great power.

One of the things you don’t think much about when you’re a baby author
just hoping the hand if god will descend out of new York and lift you
up into the promised land of publication ate interviews. You’re going
to have to do a lot of interviews. Professional ones for blogs and
magazines, sure, but also from readers, at signings and conventions.
No one will grill you like a 12 year old who wants ti know how
currency wirks in fairyland. And often, you’ll get asked the same
questions over and over, which I actually find exciting–what will be
The Question for any given book? One always emerges, the thing
everyone wants to know. So I thought tonight I’d tell you about
something I get asked a lot.

The most popular character in the Fairyland series, stalwart
protagonist aside, isn’t a person. It isnt the charismatic villain or
the trickster with the twinkle in his eye. He’s a big red fellow named
A-Through-L whose mother was a Wyvern and whose father was a library.
This makes him, to my knowledge, fairly unique in the annals of
literature. He is a Wyverary. When I began talking about the sequel to
the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
online, the question I was asked most often by children and adults
alike was: will Ell be in it?

And yes, he is loved because he is gigantic and bright red and funny
and loyal and bashes into things quite a lot, he is popular because he
is a Wyvern, which is a fancy way of saying Dragon, and few enough of
us have hearts so hard we cannot love a dragon whose great passions in
life are books and very fresh radishes, but the thing that makes Ell
who he is, that makes him a character so loved that young girls bring
hand-knit and crocheted Wyveraries to my signings, is that he is part
library.

It’s universal and it’s instant–invoking a library makes people
happy, excited, curious. Because libraries are magical places. They
always have been, public or private. Books come from human minds and
when you gather that many of them in one space, the space becomes, if
you’ll forgive the word, holy. Books create their own space and
physics, their own psychic presence. For those of us who did not grow
up with wealth, libraries were the place you could go to stuff
yourself with stories and knowledge and pursue like a bloodhound every
little obsession.

Through most of my childhood, my mother was a student, getting her
master’s in 19th century drama and then her doctorate in political
science. That should probably tell you a lot about me as a person.
This meant a lot of time spent in university and city libraries,
wandering the stacks while my mother did “research,” a word which had
a glittering, talismanic quality to me when I was very young. It
sounded very grown up, and very interesting, something secret and
cabalistic, that smart and beautiful people like my mother and her
friends did.

My school friends did not think “research” was as fascinating a game
to play at recess as I did.

But in those libraries where my mother worked, I read just about
everything–and that is part of why libraries are still magical, why
Borges wrote about an infinite one and McKinley gave Beauty an
impossibly complete one and why I’m still making them in my own books.
Because there is an alchemy to libraries. Because you go in looking
for a book about the Bermuda Triangle and end up losing a whole day to
medieval heraldry. You find Hamlet which you have to read for school,
but what in a cosmic sense you went to the library that day to find
was a little book called Seaward which would become an intimate part
of the architecture of your brain. You can never tell. A library is an
infinite tangle of possible paths to the person you’ll be in a year,
two, three, thanks to the books you stumble over by utter, delightful
chance. And though there is also magic and wonder in our digital
world, that is a spell that cannot be wholly cast online.

We are, with all of our very shiny tools, still primates. We still
crave physical experience–and more than that, a physical experience
of story, of narrative, that thing which has grown up from a thing
done around the fire in exchange for meat and wine to a thing done on
a vast stage, with paper and ink and pixels and files, a thing done
around a table at a conference in a city of high towers. We still want
to use our hands and our bodies to do things. We still want to wander
and pick up and hold and flip through and wedge a thumb in. Libraries
are a great bastion of physical experience–a literal city of books,
with laws and codes and maps and roads through high paginated towers.
This is also a magical thing. Any city is. Any forest in which you
might get lost and meet a fairy or a monster or a companion.

And so A-Through-L, my eternally helpful and hopeful Wyverary, is a
literal version of what so many of us feel–that we were born out of
libraries. For latchkey kids like me, they were parents and friends.
They were where we found out who we were, by peering into book after
book like a mirror. They were safe places we could run to when the
horrors of school got to be too much, when we didn’t have anywhere
else to go, and they were places where a love of books would never be
mocked, only encouraged. That was where I learned all those fancy ways
of saying things, and the librarians who taught me were my Gandalfs,
my Dumbledores, my Athenas with clear eyes and, I suspected,  pet owls
hiding behind the circulation desk. Without them, I only know small
and usual ways if saying things. We who were raised by libraries were
trained up by librarians, the wizards who seemed to know so much, and
steered us toward books we didn’t even know would change our lives.

A library is a place where “research” really is talismanic,
cabalistic, wonderful, mysterious, beautiful. Where it is a game we
can all play together. I’ve traveled to libraries all over the country
in the last year, reading to kids about all the places where I see and
catch magic, and every time I read in Ell’s big, booming voice under
the roof of a library, it seems so very right. Let me tell you why.
It’s kind of a secret, between the two hundred of us, so lean in.

We are all half beast and half library. We are half big, awkward,
occasionally fire breathing thing who want to be loved so terribly
much, who want to be useful and good, and half all the books that ever
stuck with us, changed the construction of our brains and the
architecture of our hearts. We are half creatures afraid of bumping
into the world the wrong way and roasting something accidentally and
half a jumble of instincts toward wonder and kindness borne to our
innermost selves on rafts of so many books and stories. We are all
wyveraries.

And that is why everyone asks me, with worry in their eyes, begging me
to say yes, if Ell will be in the next book. To make sure, to be
reassured, that this great and dear creature who stands in for
everyone who ever loved a library and wanted to make it proud, never
has to leave Fairyland. That he, and they, will always be in the
story.

And I tell them every time, with a twinkle in my eye: of course he will.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


Hey,

Thanks for writing this. I'm a Readers' Advisor at a large library northwest of Chicago. I have a great job. I do. But some days it feels like a slog. Sometimes it gets hard to remember how awesome the job is, how frikkin cool libraries are when you are giving the same 3 James Patterson books to people over and over again and all other folks want to do is be disgruntled at you because digital books for their e-readers can have wait lists.

So thank you for re-adjusting my brain. My workplace is as magical as I promote it to be. It's good to remember that there's always someone in the stacks like you.

Yay, Ell! I'm glad he'll be back, and I hope you'll do a signing at Pandemonium Books in Boston.

Libraries are awesome.

Well. I think you can imagine how this made me feel.

Well, thanks, Cat. Nothing like starting out the day with freshly-washed eyes.

And thanks especially for this: "That was where I learned all those fancy ways of saying things … Without them, I only know small and usual ways if saying things." All my life I’ve had people stare at me and make remarks, ranging from admiring to scornful, about “those big words you use.” On my side, I was speechlessly astounded that *they* didn’t know those words. From their point of view it was pretty clear they thought I was showing off or snobbish. There was a gulf. You’ve helped me understand, all of a sudden, that I was looking out from my rich, safe, beloved castle of the library over the bottomless moat of ignorance at people who were ignoring the nearby, perfectly accessible and freely available drawbridge. Nuts to them.

You’ve helped me understand, all of a sudden, that I was looking out from my rich, safe, beloved castle of the library over the bottomless moat of ignorance at people who were ignoring the nearby, perfectly accessible and freely available drawbridge. Nuts to them.

In the 90s, there was an otherwise-forgettable movie with Lara Flynn Boyle and Stephen Baldwin called Threesome. The best part is Lara Flynn Boyle nearly having an orgasm in a library because one of the love-interests has an awesome vocabulary. Her afterglow line is to say, breathlessly "God, I love big words."

So, yes. What you said..

Also:

Dear Ms. Cat:

I'm not sure exactly where you found the viewport to my soul, but you regularly speak my truth more beautifully and clearly than I could ever hope to. You manage to put into words all the things I've felt and believed but never quite managed to articulate. You write things, to steal your turn of phrase, that go bong in my bones. This is just the most recent.

Bless you for that. Some day I am going to come to a convention or something for the express purpose of giving you a hug.

Love,

Random Internet Fangirl

When you write an idea, the way you express it is so bell-like, so precise, concrete and charming, so that it snaps my mind into thinking with that metaphor (and I think I'm not unusual in this regard). 'We are all wyveraries' is a metaphor helps us think better. Thank you!


I grew up in libraries -- my mom was a librarian. They are portals into the real Multiverse.

The first time I recognized my own mortality was looking up at the stacks of Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch and realizing that there was no way I would ever read all of those books.

This is perfect and wonderful and I am weepy with the good tears from it.

Thank you. passing it along!

And this is why I have one of the best jobs in the world. (: Thank you!

This speaks to my soul. Thank you.

This post moved me to tears. Thank you, from a Librenard who didn't know how to articulate her love for her foster parental libraries until she met the half-wyvern son of a Library in Fairyland.

This moved me to tears, spoke to my soul, and expresses my feelings for libraries and librarians. Beautifully written.

For a long time, Seaward was Lucy's story of the cup and the sword and the green hill for me, that book I only ever remembered tiny pieces of and yet I knew was written into me. I had read it once and all but forgotten it, except sometimes there was Rhiannon, or sometimes the statue of the lady in the blue cloak. I loved the ghost of it. And now that I have it back I love it more for knowing its ghost.

Eeeee! Yes! This is so awesome! (And puts into words why I like Ell so much, and identify with him!)

Oh, wow. Yes.

Coincidentally, I'm a bit over halfway through re-reading Fairyland right now.

what do you call a group of librarians?

A Shelf

A Dewey

.... and when I write Library or Librarian, I always use capital letters. Just Because..

I was going to call a group of librarians a Catalog.

Stasia

I like that a lot better...

This is so lovely it gave me shivers. I grew up with the public library, and every time their funding gets cut it breaks my heart a little. Because where else can you find knowledge freely given and safe haven and every story you could want to hear?

Would it be all right if I sent the link for this post to my alderman and the mayor? This is a better explanation that any I could give for why we can't afford to cut any more library hours or staff or services.

My mother used to drop me off at the British Museum with an apple and a sandwich. The museum was my Aunt Beast, my refuge and my kingdom.

This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, so, so much.

Yes, this. Most eloquently said.

A Libation of Librarians

Very glad to hear that Ell will forever be in Fairyland, because he will live on in my heart forever as well.

I am amused to note that a) I just spent an afternoon in front of a photocopier, wherein I reminisced to my partner about happy days spent as a child in the photocopy annex of the University Library, with my mother's student ID card to let me in. Said library also had (and may still have) colored tape on the floor to guide patrons to various sections on each floor. I used to choose one at random and see where and how deep it led me, and what might lie at the end.

(My mother was working on her master's and PhD in chemical engineering.)

This rings so very true, thank you! And my preferred collective noun is a hush of librarians.

ooh, I like that one. Something about the softness and shortness of the word hush combined with the intensity of librarians. Yes.

I had never even contemplated why I loved Ell. I just did. It's what you do. Everyone loves Ell.

And this is why.

-another wet-eyed fan

This is glorious. Thanks so much for sharing it here.