I can’t remember a time when I was growing up that I wasn’t a regular patron of the Florence Public Library in Florence, SC. Every year, at the start of summer vacation, my mom would take me to the library and I would walk out with a huge stack of books (I usually took as many as they’d let me). I’d read them over the next couple of weeks and then we’d go back and I’d get another stack. There were very few times during the summer when I didn’t have a book in my hands. Now, as an adult without a three month vacation, the season never really feels like summer. I think the lack of library books contributes to that.
I can close my eyes and see that old building clearly. I remember the children’s room at the top of the stairs where I started my life of literary adventures. The Young Adult section was right outside and I can remember when my tastes began maturing and I began venturing out to it. One of the first books I read from that section was about a boy who could move into 2-and-4-dimensional universes and the girl he started taking with him. I can no longer remember the title of the book, or even much of the plot, but I still consider it a vivid and important memory. Strange, huh?
I spent many years as a citizen of the young adult section. But one day, as we all do, I started gravitating to the general fiction section.
I say “section”, but it was so much more than that. It was its own room, and — due to the architectural peculiarities of the building — felt like it was in it’s own babsement world. It was dark and cool and musty. And it was wonderful. Take everything good about being in a bookstore (except, i suppose, the ubiquitious coffee shops) and multiply it by a thousand. That was how fantastic the fiction room was. But the room’s best secret was in the very back.
There, in the darkest and mustiest section of the building, was the science fiction/fantasy section. It was here that I could find the Orson Scott Card and the Greg Bear and the Arthur C. Clarke novels. Here was where they kept the science fiction anthologies. Here is where I met Professor Tolkien. Of course, I didn’t know any better, so I mostly read all of the Star Trek and Star Wars novels they had. But, eventually, I exhausted the library’s supply of licensed fiction and moved on to the good stuff.
It is not an exaggeration to say that this section of the library shaped me more than any force other than my parents. And honestly, it probably gave my parents a run for their money in that department as well. During the many years where I grew from what I was to who I am, I was reading science fiction.
It was in those pages that I learned about hope and fear and blackest despair. I learned about equality and judgment. I learned about courage. I also learned not to judge a book by its cover (if you’re not a fan of the genre: some of the best novels have some of the most hideous covers).
In a very real sense, I owe a lot of the good parts of who I am today to whoever decided that science fiction should have its own section at the Florence library. Thanks to that person, I didn’t have to spend my half hour of library time hunting through the true crime thrillers or trashy romance novels to find something with spaceships or dragons. I could go right to my own inspiration. Up until now, I took it for granted.
The library where I live now does not have its own science fiction section. It merely has “Adult Nonfiction”. As an adult, I understand this. It doesn’t necessarily make sense for science fiction to be the only genre to get its own section. And assigning books to one genre or another can be difficult and subjective. I get it.
But now I truly miss what I had growing up. And I seriously have to wonder: who would I be if I’d grown up here instead of there?
Probably not nearly as awesome.