Today I’m reading ‘This Tender Land,’ a deliberative story of four orphans — three teenaged boys and a five-year-old girl — who escaped (barely) from an Indian School in South Dakota. It’s a touching story, poignant, sometimes harrowing. It’s about faith in God, faith in friends and faith in ones self.
The book is by William Kent Krueger. His books about Cork O’Connor — a small-town lawman in Ojibwa country of Minnesota — are fun cop stories with heroes and bad guys... they’re darned entertaining stories.
Krueger was discovered for me by my sister, a member of a book club in Rockwall. Several years ago I was laid up with a broken leg and she shipped me reading material, including ‘Ordinary Grace,’ Krueger’s award winning novel about murder, friendships, life in a parsonage and growing up. It’s among the best books I’ve read. Ever.
I’m telling you all this because Kilgore Public Library has for many decades been a member of the Northeast Texas Library System. My library card entitles me to log onto the NETLS ‘library’ and select a downloadable book. I have two weeks in which to read it — at the end of that time, Poof!, it’s gone from my tablet/computer. NETLS maintains a waiting list for in-demand books... I was on the waiting list for ‘This Tender Land’ about six months. (Krueger’s pretty good and worth waiting for.)
Kilgore’s library is an indispensable part of the fabric of Kilgore. Librarian Stacey Cole and her crew are gifts to the community, demonstrating over and over again the importance of a good library at a time when readers are drifting toward digital ‘books’ and generally away from words on paper. For those of us whose primary interest in the library is access to books, NETLS completes the picture.
In the ‘70s, I lived in Quitman. When we moved to that county seat town, the community had no public library for its 1400-or-so citizens, the nearest being in Mineola 15 minutes away.
Several Quitmannequins felt the need for a lending library. A dilapidated, empty house was made available; primitive shelves were built on platforms laid across the bathtub, shimmed up against walls that leaned this way and that, wedged into tiny closets, avoided the kitchen range and generally filled all the spaces except the spot where we would someday park a card catalog.
And we began collecting books. When folks die, something has to be done with the book collection. In Quitman, our library was the beneficiary of those informal estate disposals.
Our biggest success, maybe our happiest day, came when Quitman Public Library became a member of NETLS. At that point, we knew we’d “made it,” our relevance and our permanence were assured.
Before the internet and the worldwide web, NETLS tended toward cumbersome. One submitted a request by phone or mail and someone at NETLS added your request to the list. The list went out to member libraries and — if the book was available — it was shipped to the requesting library. Two weeks later, you returned the book and your library sent it back to the originating library. Slow, but faster than horseback and invaluable if you wanted something from the Dallas Morning News’ best seller list, something newer than Uncle Marion’s Louis L’Amour collection. I suppose one could still do that; I may even give it a try, but for comfort and convenience, it’s hard to top a Kilgore library card and Northeast Texas Library System online.
Bill Woodall spent his productive years writing and reading. Now, he mostly reads.