Rock Island Library
Rock Island, IL
It all started with the Rock Island Library’s bookmobile. In first grade, I read 14 books during the school year, all borrowed from the bookmobile. In second grade, I read 21 books, including the earliest that I recall (but very faintly, unfortunately) — The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley. I read an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures fairly dancing off the page. In my memory, the pictures sparkle and ripple, as though seen through a watery spray. In third or fourth grade, I started visiting the main library’s children’s department, where I borrowed books about magic, books about Freddy the Pig, books about ghosts, books about mythology, and so on. I don’t remember if I was in the fifth or sixth grade when I was finally allowed to have an adult card, but climbing the steps from the children’s department to the adult section was like going from first grade straight to college. I remember it as gleaming, all glass shelves, a shaft of sunlight from a high-set window bathing everything in a golden glow. Of course the reality was nothing like that memory, but it still felt like a whole new world had been opened to me. I nearly lived in the science fiction section during school vacations, browsing through the shelves and finding three or four titles to carry on my walk home. Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Laumer, Bradbury, and Ellison all became my friends, as did so many more.
Readmore Book World
Rock Island, IL
The next best thing to borrowing books to read is buying books to read. Most of my paperback, comic book, and magazine collection came from this beloved store. (So much of it given away, sold, or traded over the years that none of them are in my possession any longer. Moving several times over the past 40 years necessitated purging my library many times over.) As a teenager, the highlight of my week was walking to Readmore on Saturday afternoon, loading up on comic books, walking home and then reading them over pizza and root beer. The habit carried over into my early twenties — on Wednesdays during lunch time, I’d leave the radio station where I worked, drive across the river, load up on comics, and head back to the station to eat my lunch and read. (Sometimes, I snuck some reading in during slow afternoon shifts, too. Shh, don’t tell anyone.) Readmore introduced me to Warren horror magazines, Ace science fiction books, Galaxy and Worlds of If science fiction magazines, underground comics, and the trench coat section in the back of the store where the smutty magazine were displayed. (Again, shhh, don’t tell anyone.)
Denkmann Memorial Library, Augustana College
Rock Island, IL
During my college years, I worked part-time in two places on campus: the college radio station (yep, it had paying positions!) and the college library. I had one foot in the world of literature and one foot in the world of mass communications. There were times when I thought I should have been a librarian instead of pursuing radio and television as a career. Students usually worked circulation and reshelving. During summer break, for three years running, I worked full-time in the library (well, six hours a day, at the most). One summer, the library administration began the transition from the Dewey Decimal system to Library of Congress classification system. All of the books using the LOC system were shelved starting in the basement, which necessitated moving every Dewey Decimal classified book up, filling in empty shelf space on the second to sixth floors to accommodate the growing reclassified books on the lower floors. Stories that I’ll have to save for another time: how I lost my last gasp of faith in a top floor of that library; how I developed a crush on a fellow student (a former high school classmate) who later went on to become a successful author; and how I found the funniest book title ever in the music section.
Fort Worth, TX
1989 – 1992
Whenever someone’s willing to listen, I usually blame the failure of my career as an independent video producer on my poor business sense, in my inability to diversify my client list. That’s most of the reason. The remaining 30% of the reason? I got to hang out with friendly people at a fun comic book store in Forth Worth. Heroes had two locations — the main store on West Berry Street where the owner, Ron, presided; and the second store on Highway 80 West, where Maritabeth and Candy wor
ked. (Requiescat in pace, Candy. You are missed.) I became good friends with Maritabeth and Candy, and they let me hang out in the store, whiling away many an afternoon, reading my stash. Yes, I was reading comics when I should have been marketing my business. (As I’ve said already … shh, don’t tell anyone.)
Half Price Books
Flagship Store, Dallas, TX
Before Half Price’s main store moved into its current “super-store” flagship, it was located in a curiously-designed two-story house just around the corner and down the street. The place felt cramped (even though it was bigger than a normal two-story house), musty (well, what used book store doesn’t smell a little musty?), and a bit disorganized. The floorboards squeaked, there were a couple of areas where you had to watch your head, and the stairs up to the second floor made me a little leery whenever I used them. All that changed when HPB bought a big box location on Northwest Highway, moved the whole kit-n-kaboodle there, and outfitted the new layout with several registers, a spacious meeting/reading area, and a cafe. To this day, the most peaceful moments I’ve ever spent in a place filled with books — store, library, what-have-you — were in this store. I spent many Saturday afternoons — during some of the most stressful times of my life — planted in the most comfortable over-stuffed chair I’ve ever sat in, loaded up with a pile of books and not a care in the world. I miss a lot of things about the Dallas-Fort Worth area since I moved away in 2003. Of course I miss my friends terribly, but of all the locations I’ve lived and visited there, I miss this HPB store the most.