Short story collection written by Harlan Ellison
Before I knew anything, the library existed. The brick building housed one floor of books and nothing else. A few were reference only and could not be checked out. The huge wooden card catalogs dominated the center of the public space.
The children’s area was to the left as you entered with the picture books closest beside the bench. Back in the far corner, you could find paperbacks and anthologies of old myths as well as scary stories beneath Alfred Hitchcock’s name. Some of the paperbacks collected old Peanuts strips. Others enticed with promises of adult knowledge.
If you went straight ahead and to the right, then you entered the adult area. Their paperbacks were right up front on spinning racks. A little searching revealed Star Trek books, which adapted the episodes of the series.
At that point, the librarians also took notice of your height and overall gravitas. Every step was watched. Unfamiliar librarians would consult a parent to ensure that you had permission to peruse the secrets that lay buried within those metal shelves: automotive repair and martial arts; biographies that got the facts wrong because of poor research and not because the facts might upset you; etc.
As I remember it, I received my pass because of my expressed desire to read Ian Fleming. Naturally, you could walk as slowly as you wanted and look at everything on the way. But you had to play it cool. You couldn’t just start grabbing stuff down. You were not going to get yourself banned because of a lack of self-control- just make a mental note for the future.
Within a couple months,the librarians stopped watching out for you until you brought the books up to the counter for check-out. If you were alone, then you had to face that dreaded raised eyebrow. Act casual and lean on the counter. Stare off into the middle distance like this would not be the first Arthur Hailey book that you had ever read.
As with all libraries, they had a few shelves for displays of featured items. Eventually, they got around to the science fiction section and a librarian pulled a few books down off the stacks and arrayed them in a more public area.
There were multiple books by Harlan Ellison. I had devoured Isaac Asimov already. I don’t know why I bypassed the other authors. Maybe it was the cover. And the stories were mighty odd. They explored themes that were somewhere outside the normal bounds of what I had been reading, to say nothing of the structure and the characters and the settings. These were often deeply flawed individuals traversing environments that felt solid and fluid, rather like life felt at the time.
Moreover, Ellison wrote these introductions and comments that placed the stories within the life of the writer. Sometimes the adventures of that life seemed inviting, but just as often not. Either way, the authorial comments suggested that life happened to writers, too.
In a sense, Harlan Ellison prodded me along to thinking about what it meant to be a reader and a writer in a practical sense. Sure, like a lot of people, I have a Harlan Ellison story or two. Mine is minor on the Ellison scale. Maybe I’ll tell them sometime if you ask, but it’s never really been about the artist as personality. Ellison has cultivated a reputation as an artist without a filter, but that was never the point. That’s the sideshow as well as part of what allows a person to keep creating art.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 97 more to go.
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