As National Library Week draws to a close, BookTrib had the pleasure of talking to bestselling authors Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott about the importance of libraries and especially about the role this year’s Honorary Chair, Judy Blume, in their lives as writers and readers. Lippman’s current novel, After I’m Gone, is out now and Abbott’s next book, The Fever, will be out in June.
When did you get your first library card? Do you still have it?
Laura Lippman: My first library card was earned at the Garrison branch of the Baltimore City library system (aka the Enoch Pratt) after I learned to write my name, a la Rufus Moffat. I think you had to surrender the old one to get the new one? At any rate, the only library card I hold is my current one.
Megan Abbott: I’ve had one as long as I can remember. My parents used to take me to the Grosse Pointe Public Library-Woods Branch three or four times a week as a kid. I don’t have the card anymore, but boy, I still remember the smell of that library: glue, industrial carpet, dust, ink pads. Home.
Are you a conscientious book-returner or do you tend to hoard all the ones you’ve checked out until long after they’re overdue?
LL: I plead the Fifth.
MA: Historically, I’m diligent about returning, but the age of the online renewal has made it much easier. I’m a serial renewer.
What’s your favorite library?
LL: There are many, many libraries I love and admire, but the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt is dear to me. I just wish it still had a goldfish pond.
MA: So many, foremost the New York Public Library’s main building on Fifth Avenue. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the Los Angeles Public Library, the central one downtown, where you can browse through all the great 1940s tabloid papers or peruse its incredible historic menu selection, which is also available online. You can look at a Cocoanut Grove menu from 1948, or the Brown Derby from 1959.
With so much of the literary conversation moving online, not to mention readers shopping online for new books rather than perhaps going to their local libraries or bookstores, how can we help keep libraries a vital part of our lives?
LL: Maybe I’m living in la-la land, but my sense is that libraries are still pretty vital. The trick is reminding people that they have, you know, books.
MA: I know so many libraries that have been innovative with their events. They are hubs in their communities—book clubs, kids’ events, voter forums—and that makes them essential. The library here in Oxford, Mississippi does a wonderful job of programming, organizing a monthly Books & Lunch with a different author, hosting book clubs, running several film series, including ones curated by area residents with specialties. Annual Banned Books Week activities. The St. Louis County Library is a superstar in that regard. They have a powerful foundation that enables them to bring authors regularly, building a community of local readers. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in their annual Suspense Night several times and it draws two-hundred folks out and the conversations that follow are so much fun. The library is the town square, the gathering place. We need it. I can’t imagine my world without libraries. A week doesn’t go by without my visiting one.
LL: She created that sense that someone knew my secrets and it was thrilling. And a little disturbing.
MA: Her honesty, her courage, her tenacity. There are so many aspects of her to admire, given how important she’s been to the anti-censorship movement and to changing the way we think about books for children and young adult forever. But what I probably love most is Judy Blume-the-writer. There are moments in her books that feel truer than anything I’ve ever read before or since. She has this line in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret: “It’s not so much that I like him as a person, God, but as a boy he’s very handsome.” What could feel more authentic about being twelve? And she’s so generous with her characters. She loves them all. She never judges them or limits them. That’s the kind of writer I hope to be.
What was the first Blume book you read? Which one is your favorite?
MA: Probably Freckle Juice, though I can’t be sure because I read them all, and so many times. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great had a big impact. The idea of giving the nemesis of one book (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing) the lead in her own book—brilliant. And I’ll never forget the slam-book episode, which felt viscerally real to me. But my favorite was always Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. I loved everything about it. The time period (1947). The Miami Beach setting. Sally’s devotion to Esther Williams (I was a big old-movie lover as a kid). The fact that Sally tries to make crème de cacao with cocoa and Johnny Walker. And that she signs her letters, “Love and other indoor sports, Sally F.” The stories she spins of becoming a spy and capturing Hitler. Because, most of all, I loved that Sally’s a writer.
If you could instantly become best friends with a Judy Blume character, who would it be? (It doesn’t count if you say Blume herself.)
LL: I always liked Laura, the girl who was teased for being tall and over-developed.
MA: Either Sally or Deenie Fenner (Deenie), who seemed so glamorous to me as a kid. A thirteen-year-old girl whose mom desperately wants her to be a fashion model is diagnosed with scoliosis. She has to wear this cage-like brace. But the trick of the book is that she becomes so much stronger; she frees herself from her mother’s expectations, she becomes herself. I loved her so much I named a character in my next book, The Fever, after her.
You two know each other pretty well. Now let’s put it to the Blume test. Laura, if Megan were a Judy Blume novel, which one would she be? And Megan, how about Laura?
LL: OK, the easy thing is to put Megan in Margaret, make her one of the Pre-Teen Sensations. But I feel like she would be that kid in Blubber who manages to keep her cool, not get drawn into the drama at all.
MA: This question is challenging my capacity for abstract thought! I’m going with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, because Laura is the only other author I can think of who could come up with the PTSs. And because it’s the gold standard.
Cover Image: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/99290366755352082/
Enoch Pratt Library: http://www.eapoe.org/balt/poepratt.htm
Los Angeles Library: http://latenightlibrary.org/dog-eared-and-dispatched-january-19-2014/
Judy Blume: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judy_Blume