Geronimo Johnson is a PEN/Faulkner finalist and the critically acclaimed author of Hold it ‘Til it Hurts, and now he has written a very clever, satirical novel that is being compared to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Welcome to Braggsville (on sale today!) is a dark and socially provocative comedy about four liberal UC Berkeley students who stage a mock lynching during a Civil War reenactment...in Georgia.
Geronimo wrote up a little something for LLF to help celebrate his Book Birthday, so check it out and then go get your copy of Welcome to Braggsville.
@librarylovefest.com @triggerwarning: may contain Peanuts
@age7 a friend and I, after much earnest deliberation, much labored debate, much spirited discussion, and several rounds of sugar straws, decided to run away. Our parents did not understand us; church was terrifying, and school was school. Civilized life was hard in general. What do two @age7s need to run away? A duffle bag, sweat pants, socks, flip-flops, joke books, water, and peanut butter, all of which we ineptly smuggled out of the house. The books we shoved in our belts like water pistols, though they bulged like life vests. The sweatpants we wore under our jeans. So sly. So slick we were.
[Around this time I learned two curse words from my stepmother’s coworker at the State Department: bubble gum head (reserved for obstructionist drivers) and peanut head (reserved for children who have just knocked over the water pitcher, or committed any similar infraction). If this aside strikes you as irrelevant, as miss-shelved, that’s because it is, and shall remain so until the end.]
@age11 I wanted to cook lasagna for my family. All I knew about lasagna was Stouffers and that wedding scene from The Godfather, the scene with the vanishing cigarette. What does one need to cook lasagna? Do you boil the noodles first? Why don’t they break? Was this another lesson in tensile strength?
@age14 I decided to make homemade peanut butter for my new kinda-sorta girlfriend (we didn’t have partners back then, sadly, this was before we'd learned that orientation blindness was the solution to orientation phobia). What does one need to make peanut butter? More instruments than the hammer and cheesecloth I had at my disposal, but that was for the best as I later learned. It turned out that Margarete’s affinity was directly proportional to her disobedience to authority: she was allergic to peanuts. Margarete intended to eat that peanut butter if I could have made it, anaphylactic shock be damned. (And so, we learn that Christian Rudder, OK Cupid co-founder, is correct when he says we do not know what to ask for, nor are we who we think we are.). So just in case we happened upon the required equipment, we set about to discover the remedy for anaphylactic shock. But first, what exactly was anaphylactic shock?
Lastly, @age16 when it was time to apply to college, where did I look for sample admissions letters?
As in the other cases, I turned first to another human, the librarian, though I wasn’t always transparent. At seven I knew not to ask for “The Dummy’s Guide to Running Away,” and instead to inquire about books on camping. But no matter what I or my friends asked, we always found the answer. [Here I must acknowledge that my parents and grandparents were my first libraries.]
So when I first read Borges, I immediately understood his fascination with libraries - they are pre-internet, yet so similar: linked, hyperlinked, relinked through Dewey’s system. (Dewey prepared our brains for the net the same way our religious proclivities have made us susceptible to corporate marketing machinations). Books are among the most intimate asynchronous human communion and libraries are temples of worship where one finds: lasagna recipes, college application essays, and peanuts like my friend and I, researching other Peanuts.
And that's not all. Libraries increasingly provide safe spaces for teens to congregate and study (or just hang out) and the homeless may have no other place where they can relax and read in safety, as I often observed in Kalamazoo, MI, at the bottom of those bitter winters. And in Ferguson, MO, the librarian offered the library as a refuge.
The sum of human achievement in recorded history is a universe of possibility for all, and libraries are guardians of that written universe (mustn’t discount oral cultures, right?)- making available to all the warmth and safety of knowledge, the collective knowledge that is our true gilt, the wisdom that sets our domes ablaze.
Yet as an adult I often think of a library as a museum - houses of muses – but better because you can touch the art, check it out, take it home, make it yours, metabolize it and once it’s become part of you, return it and start all over. It’s like eating the Mona Lisa, which, if you think about it, might not be a bad idea.
Some cultures believe we can absorb the essential essence of others, that we can integrate into themselves new powers, digest spirits, sublimate into ourselves the aura of rhino horns, hearts of deceased loved ones, tiger penises, and red bulls. I, for one, would love nothing more than to munch MOMA, to lunch upon Louvre, and dine of delicacies beyond the delightful quiches on offer at the museum cafe. Until then - it's libraries for me, and I hope it remains so for the other peanuts.
P.S. this essay was supposed to be closely, or loosely, tied to my novel, in which the libraries play a key role at two critical junctures: a sacrificial book burning and a college application essay writing marathon. The novel is Welcome to Braggsville, and it was processed in a facility that also processes . . .