Do you remember the "Something Queer" mysteries by Elizabeth Levy? These young mysteries feature two girls named Jill and Gwen, and I remember that one of them owns a basset hound, and one of them keeps tapping on her braces when she contemplates clues. Anyway, Something Queer at the Library is actually one of the titles, and I thought of the book the other day when I ran into, well, something queer at the library.
I love libraries. A feeling of well-being descends on me when I enter one, as if I've been able to step out of the everyday world of cares and into a pause. I get excited about research, about books I know I'm going there to get, and about books I'll just stumble upon. Even so, these days I usually put my books on hold online and just pick them up at the library -- or, to 'fess up completely, send my husband, who goes absolutely willingly. In fact, he and the library ladies have a running joke about how I've sent him over to pick up my books yet again. Once I showed up to get my own books, and they were shocked. I think they were disappointed, too. :) So now I tell DH (these are his initials, actually), "You have to go get my books, dear. It's you the library staff want to see."
But the other day I was in the library. It's a good date place for DH and me, and we were due (for a date and the library). First, I browsed the YA section. It's smaller than the MG section, so I feel like I can get a better overall sense of what's there. So what's there? More books and authors that I have never heard of than ever before. Browsing those shelves, I felt hardly different than I felt as a new writer starting out eleventy-nine years ago. "Wow, I've never heard of this book." "Wow, who is this writer?" "How can I read as much as I read and feel so far behind?"
In the MG section, it's harder to find new books among the old. But amid well-known titles and old favorites I did find a number of more recent books and authors that I've never heard of. In no time I had gathered a stack too big to carry, as is my wont (no queer experience there), and taken them to the checkout desk because when my arms are that full, where else can I go?
And yet I'm reading what percentage of what's being published? 2%? Twenty years ago, reading a professional article about books or talking books with another writer or avid reader was apt to yield a lot of common references --kind of the way English Lit students get Shakespeare references or biblical students get Bible references. Now, if another children's writer asks me if I've read such-and-such by so-and-so, I'm not only likely to say no, I'm fairly likely to say, "I never heard of it."
Maybe I need to go back to the library more often and see the actual shelves. But the really queer thing at the library the other day was that I almost decided I prefer to hear about new titles online and just put them on hold at the library. Because it's getting harder to dig them out of the myriad of physical books, which I'm rather nonplused to find so unfamiliar after all this time in the field.
The times they are a-changin', but this change is really, well, queer.