Savannah Public Library
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I'd've been living in Savannah Gardens (white trash housing project).
My first library memories are from the Eli Whitney Elementary School. I read Alice and Wonderland and Mark Twain. That may have been Victor's suggestion.
The book that I remember mostly fondly was a juvenile science fiction novel. I'll don't expect to ever learn who wrote it. The basic plot was routine: a normal Earth boy had an alien kid for a friend. Four decades later the details are obscure. But I remember the boy from the UFO told his friend that if he'd just sit and think of a blade of grass or a pebble long enough that he'd be able to conceive the entire universe. I guess I was beginning to become who I am. That story was one of the most moving moments of my life.
(Really. I've been sitting here trying to type while tears roll down. I'd be frightened if I didn't know I'd be my usual sober self momentarily.)
I almost want to see that book again. But I fear that it may live better in the hallowing glow of recollection.
When did I get my first public library card? My best guess is 10 or 11.
The first books I checked out? Not sure. Sometime there about I checked out Isaac Asimov's I, Robot. "Positronic brains" and the "laws of robotics" - what could be more exciting? (OK, you had a different childhood.)
I actually remember taking I, Robot from the shelf and going to my Momma's car with it. That was at the downtown branch of the Savannah Public Library. It was on Savannah's riverfront. Mostly deserted cotton warehouses back then if you stood at the windows you wouldn't see an art student or a tourist. The branch library was small, mostly fiction of various sorts. Plenty of space was given for people to sit and read, whenever we went older people were always relaxed in chair reading newspapers and books. It looked much like the Christian Science Reading Room a couple of blocks away.
I know how Andrew Carnegie made his money. To me he'll always be the man who endowed Savannah Public Library. I'd read the bronze plaque citing his donation while I'd wait for the library to open.
Being a little kid I started out in the kid's room that was about as big as the downtown branch. The earliest book I remember getting there was one of Lester Del Rey's books in the wonderful Winston Science Fiction Classics series. (If you read fantasy or science fiction you've probably seen his name on the spine without wondering who or what "Del Rey" is. He once flattered religion by saying "Religion is the earliest form of science fiction.")
I loved that room's science fictions section. When an old ex-library science fiction books comes into the shop with a label showing a rocket ship surrounded by 'electrons' I'd be inhuman if I didn't smile in recognition.
Somewhere between then and later I went into the two-story main part of the library where they kept everything except the fiction and the juvenile books.
Mostly I read popular physics books. About seventh grade one book let me teach myself elementary calculus. I still know the name of every famous physicist through the 1950's, might be able to write out the Lorenz Transforms if you put a gun to my head, but couldn't solve a differential equation to save my life.
I spent several hours with the microfilms. I think it was a mix of Scientific American articles on time and looking for interesting old newspaper comic strips. Too much effort I thought.
My comic book fan side did get to read books about comics. It did considerably enlarge my awareness of what had been produced in the past and outside America. And they had a copy of Seduction of the Innocent. The latter is rare because it is often stolen by comic book fans. The book taught me more about psychology than the author intended. Much effort had to be exerted before I realized that the author thought the lines on a man's shoulder was a covert view of a nude woman's legs and pussy.
My interests would change. I remember checking out Alfred North Whitehead's Process and Reality which will remain to my death as impenetrable and uninteresting to me as it did then.
It was there I'd read my first H.L. Mencken book, his really very bad work on Nietzsche. Mencken did teach me something about laughing at the sheer absurdity or you, me and everybody. (Nietzsche's books were in the catalog but had vanished, whether taken by a fan or a despiser I can't guess. They were awful editions so it was best for me to have to wait until I could buy Walter Kaufmann's translations.)
Buying books proved to lead to checking out more books. If the Savannah Public Library had ever gotten rid of a book I couldn't tell it. When Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy reissued James Branch Cabell's Cream of the Jest I discovered that the library had all of his books. They'd acquired them when they'd come out in the early part of the century.
Possibly it was during my literary fantasy binge that I checked out a book of Celtic love stories. May have been my first deliberate experience of my overly romantic nature. If that collection of impossibly beautiful blond elf princes and blonde princes ever hit the shop I may run out screaming.
Quickly I discerned that much canonical literature didn't appeal to me. No Kafka, Thomas Wolfe - was he some weird joke? While I'd later discover great charm in Robert Graves The White Goddess was plainly full of shit.
Sundays my Momma would take me to the library when it opened at three. Stacks of books, not always read, would go in and out.
Larry Williams (my first black friend - may sound like nothing now, this was the 60's) would often go together after school.
Randall Maddox, best pal of high school years, would go often, he lived only a few blocks away. The library had an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (there may not have been any other kind back then) and we could do useful research like look up vampires. Randy would eventually take a part-time job at the library, shelving books and bringing customers microfiche.
Other times I'd take the bus there by myself. Or walk to the library (about five or six miles) and back.
When lust for pretty boys became part of my life I check out H. Montgomery Hyde's biography of Oscar Wilde. But in 1972 I had to go to Walden's to get hip to being queer in the 20th century.
After leaving home I'd find myself back in the Port City as Savannah lyingly calls itself (before the Civil War it was as popular a port as New York City but that was very long ago).
On one return I discovered Max Beerbohm, one of the few perfect prose writers of the 20th century.
About the last time I walked past Andrew Carnegie's plaque I checked out Books Do Furnish A Room. I was a little pissed that they didn't have the preceding nine novels. But they had other Anthony Powell novels and I so I got to discover What's Become of Waring.
And I owe the Savannah Public Library for having The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold introducing me to Evelyn Waugh.
Savannah's main public library is surely still standing as it was. At least on the outside. They couldn't afford to replace the building. The books on the shelves will have changed a bit. New books, maybe even books for the young queer. I do wonder if those old books were sold for nickels and dimes at a library sale.
I've seen public libraries that replace their unique books with TV and movie biographies they'll discard as well. Hopefully the Savannah Public Library was a bit more retentive.