October 13, 2011

Guest post: Leslie Budewitz

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:17 pm

Books, Crooks, and Counselors

Another author starting another post with another wonderful quote. This post could be called An Ode to Libraries. The details Leslie Budewitz manages to capture–you can tell she’s a wonderful writer–brought me back to my own days of riding my three speed bike all summer long in search of books. Or of being sick at home and sending my game-but-unsure parents in search of the just the right book whose title and author I couldn’t recall. “It’s about a girl…and she’s really a witch…and there’s something with a tree…” Thank goodness for librarians. And for libraries–as Leslie is about to tell you.

Leslie Budewitz

“I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

My first memory of a library is the Parmly Billings Library in Billings, Montana. The city was named for Northern Pacific Railroad president Frederick Billings, whose son Parmly was the only family member to live there. When Parmly died of pneumonia at 25 in 1888, his parents gave the city a building site and seed money for a library. Built of local sandstone in the Romanesque style, it served as the library from 1901 until the late 1960s. I thought it was a castle.

By the 1960s, even with several additions, the castle was so crowded that most books were kept in inaccessible stacks and brought out by request. Except for the children’s section. There, Curious George and Mike the Steam Shovel reigned. The Borrowers spun their magic, and I could easily imagine walking through a wardrobe into Narnia.

Libraries needn’t be grand. The castle was eventually replaced by an old warehouse, which offered space and parking, and didn’t seem to cramp Curious George’s style–just like kids, he’s curious anywhere. For a while, a children’s branch anchored a shopping center. And Tuesday mornings in summer, I peddled my pink Schwinn to Rose Park to meet the bookmobile, emptied my twin bike baskets, and filled them up again. The ride home was uphill, but my excitement made the ride easier.

Now I live in a small town with a county branch library. The online catalog lets me sit home and order books from other branches or the statewide library partnership. It’s great technology, both in scattered rural states like Montana and busy systems with dozens of branches.

But I miss the physical spaces. I miss the those accidental finds, the books you come across mis-shelved, or when you kneel down to look at something and your eye falls on something else, or the book that’s just been returned and screams to go home with you.

In law school, I spent much of my waking time in the library, studying. (And some of my sleeping time, too–I occasionally fell asleep on the floor in “the stacks,” the windowless basement rooms crammed with bound volumes of law reviews and obscure references.) The main reading room featured classic oak library tables, some tucked in book-lined alcoves with arched windows of leaded glass. In one alcove, a maple vine poked its way in through a pinhole in the glass and twined down the stone walls.

The main library at Notre Dame is a tall building with a mural outside showing Jesus with his arms raised to heaven. The building faces the end of the football stadium where the students sit, so of course, it’s called “Touchdown Jesus.” Inside, I came across a pink cloth-bound book called Law Careers for Girls. I could hardly believe it was still on the shelves. Or that it recommended careers in tax law, because women are good with numbers and details. I’m sure my tax prof would have howled if I’d showed him the book.

Sometimes you can’t find those accidental discoveries again, no matter how many librarians you enlist in the search. I’d still like another look at a book in the Seattle Public library on pairing American quilts and Asian furniture in design.

When I worked in downtown Seattle in the 1980s, the library occupied a squat black glass building that did nothing to inspire reading or writing, at least outside. The new library, built in 2004, is so wildly creative that it’s been both a prize-winner and a bit of a controversy. The exterior makes you wonder ‘what building is that?’ while I always imagine the interior to be made of giant crayons, bent and molded and reshaped. Like libraries and their contents–offering much more than books these days–do to our thinking, our imagination, our plans for the afternoon.

Kind of like Curious George in the castle.

What’s your favorite library memory?

Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011). She is a practicing lawyer and a mystery writer living in northwest Montana. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers, or send her a question, at http://www.LawandFiction.com


  1. As a kid my mom would take me to the library in Downers Grove once a week. I’d pick up 7 books. Return them the next week and pick up 7 more. Now I lovey love love the library on Ocean Park in Santa Monica. It’s beautiful.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Leslie! And thanks to Jenny as well.


    Comment by Pamela DuMond — October 13, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

  2. Leslie, I’m so glad I got to visit that new Seattle library on the trip where I met you! My hometown library building is in jeopardy (Moline, IL, not that far from Downers Grove). They’re trying to decide if they should tear it down or not. But there’s a big, beautiful new one, so all the books are safe! I spent many happy hours as a child going through every horse book in the place.

    Comment by Kaye George — October 14, 2011 @ 12:09 am

  3. Starting a new school in tenth grade was tough. Making the decision to work in the library instead of taking study hall like everyone else…THAT took courage! When I signed that paper, all I could think of was the access to all those books, not the certain social suicide that I was committing. But each day was like magic. After only five minutes of work, I had thousands of books at my fingertips. Oh yea, and that really cute boy I liked would sneak in and visit me. I never regretted my decision for one second.

    Thank you both for bringing back that empowering memory!

    Comment by Pamela Brennan Albacete — October 14, 2011 @ 12:19 am

  4. That is some wonderful library in Seattle. I’ve going to the library since I was four, in NYC. I could take out ten books and I had my own card. The joke in my adult life when we moved around a lot was that I first asked for a pediatrician and then where the library was. I have too many fond memories to pick just one except I volunteered in a small town library once. I got to shelve the books, and we still used a “dater.” I was a kid in a candy store. It was wasn’t working; it was a joy!

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — October 14, 2011 @ 1:04 am

  5. I loved my childhood library, Mead Library in Sheboygan , WI. It was beautiful and I spent every moment there I could. We didn’t have a car so I had to walk and I remember carrying as much as I could, books and phonograph albums. Loved to check out albums. Wow could things get heavy after 8 blocks or so. I still remember the sounds and smells and I can see the layout in my mind clearly still. My favorite books were THE SECRET GARDEN, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, THE BORROWER books, HANS BRINKER OR THE SILVER SKATES, THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE, TOM”S MIDNIGHT GARDEN…I read these at least a dozen times each. If you asked the librarian they would let you sit at a table in the children’s section with a basket full of heavy cardboard photos that fit into a viewer. You held up the viewer and could see the pictures though them in dimension. It was rather old but a treat, for me at least. Shortly after I went away to college they built a new library, I tried it but there was no attachment there for me. It is not just the books, it is the whole package.

    Comment by Elizabeth — October 14, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  6. My first love was a library!

    Blog and photo at The Huffington Post:



    Comment by Lev Raphael — October 14, 2011 @ 5:43 am

  7. I am addicted to my town’s library — I run in several times a week, at least. I also love the library in the town next to mine. It’s such a thrill to find a book I’ve been wanting to read or picking upa new author and discovering I love her. :)

    Comment by Judy — October 14, 2011 @ 7:33 am

  8. I hope libraries will never go away – and that there will always be a place for books, books and more books! I agree with you, Leslie … Nothing takes the place of those “accidental” finds – a book you never knew existed but is just the perfect book for you!

    I was 9 years old when I had my first Eureka! moment – a slender volume of Irish folklore compiled by W.B. Yeats (the stories interspersed with his own wonderful poetry, bits and pieces of which I remember to this day).

    That was the day I discovered the “little people,” leprechauns and pooka, witches and changelings and lovetalkers … and so much more.

    That was the day the seeds were sown for my Portals fantasy/detective novels … the idea for bringing all the wondrous beings of our myths and legends into our own world.

    And it all started in a library …

    Comment by P.L. Blair — October 14, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  9. The library is my home away from home, I’ve had many memorable moments at the library, both as a child and as an adult. As a child, I remember often going to my local library with my friends. I also remember my mom taking me to a really beautiful old fashioned library a few towns away on Saturdays because I just loved that specific one so much. Currently, my local library offers many community programs such as free classes, free movie nights, and free demonstrations. I used to do weekly volunteering their for about 2 years. This past summer, I walked to the library from my house for the first time (it took me 45 minutes.) I love the library more than anything.

    Comment by Sadaf — October 14, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  10. I love my library. When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I would go to the library every Sat morning spend a few hours there, check out books and then go get something to eat for lunch. It was great.

    Comment by Kellie — October 14, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  11. Oh, what lovely memories! Lil, you’re right – too many to choose. These stories have brought back even more of my own. When I told my mother about this post, she assured me that The Castle had plenty of its adult books out for browsing–she always found something interesting–though we both remember asking for a poetry book I needed in the third grade, with a copy of Joyce Kilmer’s Trees, and waiting for it to be fetched from the catacombs. Maybe that’s why I loved the secret stacks in the law school library!

    Elizabeth, what a great list of books to recall! And the stereoscope–what fun. Lev, a lovely memory. Yes, those grand old buildings are so evocative, exerting their power on us even when we were too young to articulate why.

    And PJ, the little people! How wonderful that you can trace the lineage of your own stories back to that childhood library!

    Thank you all for sharing.

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — October 14, 2011 @ 11:09 am

  12. This is why I love blogging!! Where else could I go and find 10, 11, a dozen, more, people–all of whom spent their childhoods and continue to spend their adulthoods *exactly like me*?? (I suppose that sentence should read I did and do…but how awkward :) Good thing we have poetic license…

    Thank you all for sharing such wonderful memories and current passions–and thank you, Leslie, for triggering us :)

    Comment by jenny — October 14, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  13. Great post, Leslie. Jenny, thanks for having Leslie guest blog!

    I loved the library in my home town in New Jersey in a building that must be over 100 years old now. I loved both the building and the contents. It’s still being used as the library. But I also remember the library I discovered on the Army post in Germany for an entirely different reason.

    I think we’d been there for almost two years before I discovered it. We bought paperbacks at the Post Exchange before and after that. All the hardboiled/noir male authors’ books were available. Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, the Matt Helms books, Shell Scott, and my favorite, John D. MacDonald, among others. Then I found the library by accident, and of course I went inside. There I found books written by women. Wow. And so I began reading Frances Parkinson Keys especially. What a change from all those macho male authors. I do believe that all that reading had a big influence on my writing. As with reading, I like to mix it up with a little hardboiled/noir here, a little feminine sensibility there, a little humor everywhere.

    Libraries are incredibly wonderful. Thanks again for sharing your memories, Leslie. It’s fun to go down Memory Lane every so often.

    Comment by Jan Christensen — October 14, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  14. Sadaf — a library volunteer! You’re a hero to us all!

    There’s a fun new cozy mystery series set in an old Carnegie library, The Magical Cats mysteries by Sofie Kelly. The protagonist is the librarian, and in the first book, she’s just been hired to oversee the renovation. Lots of fun library details. The Carnegie library I know best, in Kalispell, MT, is now an art center–the library moved across the street to a larger building, also historic. And I remember going to a restaurant in an old Carnegie library in Olympia, Washington years ago–wonderfully done, with the spirit of the place intact.

    See what happens? Push the “library memories” button and they just keep popping out!

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — October 14, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  15. I LOVE the Seattle Library! Though I live in the Olympia area, I often go to Seattle for business reasons, and when I have time I love just going to the library and hanging out. I love the architecture too, and think it contributes a great deal to the general ambiance of my favorite destination city!

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — October 14, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  16. From the moment I saw it I adored not only the books but the light & shadow & architecture of the Carnegie Library in the town I am in again now. I remember the first day my class toured it and the last day it was open as a library and my husband & I sat in the balcony looking at the light & shadow on the tables, chairs, windows, books. As someone else said — so many fond library memories at so many different libraries.

    Thanks for sharing. The castle sounds like the way the one in my town struck me when I first saw it but even more awesome. Love this thread!

    Comment by Brenda — October 14, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  17. P.S. One of my accidental finds this week was a book of legal short stories.

    Comment by Brenda — October 14, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  18. I still spend much of my time at the public library. I recently did a library program in fact. But I could never afford to buy all the books I love to read without the library making them available.And I have spent countless hours doing research for my writing at the library. When we down-sized from a house to a co-op apartment, I was forced to give away thousands of wonderful books. I donated them to our local library for their booksale. Hopefully, the gesture helped to raise funds for the library. My all-time favorite library? The 42nd St. library in Manhattan, a truly awesome place!

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — October 14, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  19. Jacqueline, I’ve been in that Manhattan library, and you’re right–it’s amazing. I’m sure your book donation was a huge boost to your local library–the Flathead County Library system just announced that it received 10,000 books for the annual sale, which raised more than $10,000. And the branches run an ongoing sale cart throughout the year. Public libraries depend on generosity like yours.

    Brenda, don’t you just love those accidental finds? The Castle is now the Western Heritage Center, an apt use of the building and an apt memorial to Parmly Billings.

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — October 14, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  20. I worked in a tiny library when I was pregnant with my oldest son. The library was so small, it was a one-staff-at-a-time kind of place, the best in my mind because I really got to know the patrons. I had to do everything there: right reviews, conduct story time for elementary school children, find the books patrons heard about on the radio even though they couldn’t remember the name of the book or the author.

    I loved working there. My best memory, though, is my son taking his first steps in that library.

    Comment by Nancy Lynn Jarvis — October 15, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  21. Nancy, his first steps? How wonderful! I hope he thinks fondly of libraries, too!

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — October 15, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  22. My first was a tiny house converted into a small library. I recall one lovely librarian lady who was always welcoming. I think we went once a week.

    The original library was destroyed in a hurricane and rebuilt. I went back a few years ago. It was still small (it’s a small town) and attached to the library was a local history museum. It featured donated items from locals. I brought my mother along so she could contribute her letterman’s sweater from the high school girls’ basketball team. Nothing big ever happened in this town, but we spent hours pouring over the memorabilia. It made my mother so happy. Thanks for the memory, Leslie and Jenny.

    Comment by Ramona — October 16, 2011 @ 6:45 am

  23. My library memory is of our elementary school library. Once a week, we trooped down into the basement of the building to a crowded, rather dark room stuffed with books. There, the librarian read to us: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, Paddle-to-the-Sea, and poetry–she loved poetry.
    When I left, I had a new book to read. In those days I was hooked on biographies. (Any wonder I ended up writing historical mysteries?)
    It makes me sad that many schools today have had to cut back on libraries and librarians. Why can’t we see that our great mathematicians, scientists, and scholars must first be readers?

    Comment by Peg Herring — October 17, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  24. Any topic that keeps generating comments 3 days after it posted is one that gets at a lot of people’s hearts! I know it did mine. Hello to all the people who have stopped by since I checked in, and thank you for being here. And thanks again to Leslie, for triggering such a wonderful walk down memory lane, and snapshot of current life!

    Comment by jenny — October 17, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  25. Ramona, I got a little shiver at reading your story about taking your mother to the museum & library — and her letter sweater! Lovely! And Peg, ah yes, the school library. St. Pius’s was staffed for years by Tiz Duffner, a volunteer who loved helping us find books. You are absolutely right: creativity, innovation, and leadership depends so much on READING!!

    A big thanks to Jenny for hosting me, and to all of you for sharing your library memories! Let’s go make more!

    Comment by Leslie Budewitz — October 17, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  26. Here’s a quote about John D. Macdonald that I often see bouncing around the web (I hesitate to quote from Wikipeida, which we all know is generally stuff we can wipe our asses with, but this seems legit). “Macdonald is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only Macdonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human heart chap, so guess who wears the top grade laurels?” That’s from Kingsley Amis.

    Comment by Elizabeth — March 30, 2015 @ 1:21 am

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