There's Always Some Good News
by Jim Gibbons
It’s 2018, about one year since my book came out. I had joined a Hawaii writers’ group at the end of 2016 to get some inspiration to finish what I had been working on for the past few years, figuring to use those weekly meetings as deadlines, like when I wrote a weekly newspaper column. Looking back, those were the years I was most productive.
Then my wife needed a bone marrow transplant for her MDS, a form of bone cancer, and they don’t do that in Hawaii, so we headed back to Northern California for her weekly visits to the University of California at San Francisco for blood and platelet infusions. Just days after returning to Willits my first pack of books arrived.
I like to say, no matter how bad things get, there’s always some good news. My good news was now that I was back in Willits, where I not only spent half my life, but wrote about many of my experiences, I could give, trade, and sell my books to the many old friends I would run into on my almost daily visits to town.
Besides having a few at the local bookstore, I donated a copy to the local library. There I met Will, a friendly librarian who read and liked it enough to place it on the Staff Picks shelf, and asked if I wanted to give a reading. I did, and the room filled up with old friends and local writers, many of whom bought my book. Then I got a message from Chris at the bookstore for more books, saying that my reading spiked sales.
When my wife needed more weekly visits to the UCSF Hospital, we moved to Sausalito, which just happened to be where my book begins. The cover is a 1970 photo of me standing next to my boat on the ways just after completing a bottom job and painting COWPIE/Waldo on the starboard bow.
When I went into the new local bookstore right next to the Sausalito Yacht Harbor, the manager seemed excited to carry a local author’s book. Then I went to the Sausalito Library and asked the librarian at the desk if I could donate my book. She took a copy and returned in a bit, saying “We already have your book.”
Then she talked to Abbot, the head librarian, who invited me into his office and told me he had gone on Amazon and saw the book with its four 5 star reviews and decided to buy two copies. Then Abbot asked me if I wanted to give a reading.
Again, several old friends showed up and I sold more books. Afterward, some of us headed over to a local bar for a few beers. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to sell books and unite with old friends. But back to the bad news.
Tragically, my wife couldn’t get her transplant and was directed to hospice. She died seventeen days later. I returned to our empty house in Waimea, realizing how much I really missed her and my friends in California, but I had made a few friends here in Hawaii, thanks to the Hawaii Writers Guild, and had given a few readings at both the local library and the North Kohala Library.
Since Waimea doesn’t have a bookstore, unless you count the many Hawaiian-themed books for tourists in the various gift shops, I told a few people that it was at the local library. One day a friend said she had gone to the library to take out a copy but it wasn’t in the system. That’s funny, I told her, I’ll go check it out.
I had brought the book to our local Thelma Parker Library way back in January when I was here briefly while my wife was in the UCSF Hospital, but never followed through to check if it was processed into the system. When I finally did after my return in August, it wasn’t there. Instead of making a big deal about it, I gave them another copy, figuring it must have been some glitch and this one would be in the system by October when I would be giving a reading there with a few other Guild members.
Since I arrived early for my October reading, I went to the desk and asked Jenetta, the sweet smiling librarian, if my book was now in the system. She went to the back to ask Pam, the head librarian, and returned without her usual smile, saying it wasn’t accepted.
I was stunned. I repeated slowly, “Wasn’t accepted...” Instead of asking to talk to Pam right then, I realized it was almost time for the reading, and exited.
A few weeks before that I had contacted the closest bookstore, Kona Stories, which is a one hour drive south of Waimea. Since I very seldom go to Kona, usually shopping locally on foot or on my bicycle, I had put off the trip until a fellow Guild member suggested I give them a call.
When I did, the co-owner told me they were having a Words and Wine event, and one of the readers canceled. Would I like to take the spot? Then she suggested I bring “ten or twelve books to sell,” saying they usually get a good crowd at these monthly events.
Wow, I was on a roll! The fact that my book “wasn’t accepted” made me think it was banned, maybe because the Kona Library was having Banned Book Week, giving out stickers that said, “I READ BANNED BOOKS." I looked up other banned authors, thinking I’m in a select group, including D.H.Lawrence, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Salman Rushdie, and even Judy Blume and J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter, which is the most banned book in the United States!
I was feeling pretty good about myself, so I decided to go back to the library and ask Pam why it was banned? Just what was so offensive that my local library banned my book, putting me in that select group of writers I’ve admired most of my life?
When I approached Jenetta her smile was gone and though Pam was “out right now” she went and returned with two copies in a manila envelope with a note that read, “Sorry but we won’t be adding your book to our collection. Thanks for sharing.”
I still wanted to know why? Was it because I used the F-word? Or because I celebrated those days of sex, drugs and rock n roll? Or the piece that turned out to be the most offensive of all, Sweet and Sour Pup.
The next day I dropped in and asked Pam, who looked me straight in the eye and told me she gave one copy each to a male and female to read, and they both replied, “Eh...” Her “eh” seemed to mean, so-so...boring...not worth reading...and maybe just too offensive?
I thanked her for her honesty, went home and had a few beers to celebrate the discovery that my local library had such high standards.