MAD

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Background

I’m really excited about MAD. I’ve worked with a remarkable team of super-women called librarians to make this book, and, in the process, developed a sense of how, in twenty-first century America, libraries are the last place where people can go for professional help, in any area, for free. And our libraries are also the leader in the battle against ignorance which is at the root of many of our problems.

And, when I learned how little we support our libraries, and how much they have to beg for that support, I got mad.

So, here’s the story:

Serenity Sledge runs the Maddington, Alabama library (abbreviated MAD) on a wing and a prayer, dreaming of what her library could do. When the city council cuts off her funding, she gets mad. She finds a neglected city fund and diverts it to fund her library. But the fund turns out to be a money fountain big beyond belief. Now, she has her way to build her city of books and lift up Maddington–if she can spend the money fast enough, and stay alive.

So here’s how you can help Serenity and me. Read the first chapter below, and comment of the MAD project, or libraries, or the first chapter, or even on the very tentative cover. The best three comments, by the time the book is published, will get free signed copies. And thanks. If you haven’t guessed, I think this is important.

 

MAD Chapter 1

 

Little Pricks

SERENITY tried.

She tried to be a model librarian: professional, polite and as gentle-spoken on the outside as she could possibly be.

Her library was America at its best. In its public spaces, the MAD—as the librarians called the Maddington Public Library from the abbreviation stamped on its books—was the eminently normal center of an eminently normal small Southern city. No matter what else was going on in the city outside: failing schools, drugs in the street, too few good jobs, teen-aged boys wearing their pants too low and homeless men with no pants at all—the city fathers expected Head Librarian Serenity Hammer to keep the MAD a calm oasis of normalcy as proof that the city fathers themselves were actually doing their jobs. And they expected her to do that whether they did anything themselves or even supplied the library with actual support.

And Serenity tried to live up to that, too.

Which was why on a hot August morning, she was locked alone in a children’s reading room with a coffee cup of rum for fortitude, a rat named Faulkner for company, a copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for guidance, and a highly illegal choice before her.

Serenity Hammer was a librarian. And Serenity was mad.

#

Two days before she wrestled with moral dilemma, Serenity threw open the library’s glass doors on a hot Wednesday morning in August and smiled as patrons flowed past on their way to her books.

She picked up a handful of books from the “To be shelved” cart and turned to the stacks. She ran her finger along the spine of one, inhaled the paper-and-ink smell, and smiled again.

Someone screamed, “Damned stupid computers.” She put the books back on the cart.

Maybe later.

She walked up to a worn-out looking older woman who was slapping a worn-out library computer like it had stole from her. Serenity took the woman’s hands away from the computer and held them.

“I knowed this was a bad idea. I told my councilman I needed a job and he said they had to close the employment office and he told me to go to the library. But your damned computer just tells me what books you got here. Don’t want a book; Want a job.”

The woman tried to pull her hands away but Serenity held on. The woman’s jaw was still jutting out but her eyes were full of fear and shame.

Serenity put the woman’s hands in her lap and pulled up a chair. “Then let’s find you a job. What can you do?”

“Not a goddamned thing. Forty years looking after my husband and he died. Now I just don’t know what to do and they ain’t nobody to ask that won’t charge more money than I got and I just feel like everybody’s letting me get torn to pieces.”

“So, what have you been doing in those forty years?”

“Cooking and cleaning and raising kids and—”

“There. Know much about baking?”

“Well, of course. Who do you think made all them cupcakes the kids took to school?”

“Good.” The woman slid over and Serenity brought up a web page. “There’s a bakery out on Segers Road. They specialize in making treats for people who have special dietary needs. They were in here yesterday looking for a book on hiring folks.”

The woman shook her finger at the screen. “They better be careful. My husband Christopher was a diabetic. There’s some stuff you got to know if you’re cooking for diabetics.”

Serenity touched her on the shoulder. “You’re just what they need. But you’ll need a resume.” Serenity slid back and turned the keyboard to the woman. “You type, and I’ll help you.”

A few minutes later, a warm sheet of paper slid out of the printer. Serenity handed it to the woman. “Take that to Stacey out at Liberated Specialty Foods, see if you can help each other.”

The tears were gone, “What would we do if the library wasn’t here?”

Serenity said, “My library will always—”

A blue-haired woman grabbed her elbow.

“This thing ain’t got nothing in it.”

She shoved a book in Serenity’s hands and Serenity smiled. The woman was the wife of the Church of Christ’s choir director. She had joined the Romance Book Club so she could condemn immorality. Flipping through the pages, Serenity handed the book back and pointed to the middle of a page. “Here.”

The choir director’s wife bobbed her head up and down like a nervous bird, studying the page and popping up to make sure no one saw her. She raised her head one last time with her mouth open.

“Praise Jesus. This is terrible.”

Anything. Just keep them coming in.

Serenity nodded and headed for her office door. A twenty-something woman with books clutched to her chest and a librarian’s badge blocked her path.

Fine. Don’t want to face what’s waiting behind that door.

“Ms. Hammer, he’s back.”

“Who?”

Amanda Doom pulled one hand from under her books and slowly raised her index finger until it was straight up. “Do you want me to get security?”

Serenity looked over at the high school boy who had volunteered to wear the red “Security” tee shirt today.

“No.”

“I can call the police.”

“Take them a half-hour to get here. Besides, he’s cousin to the wife of the District Attorney. We’ll just wind up in a long discussion about his constitutional rights, again. No, we need to end this once and for all. We’re a library. Our power is books.”

She pulled the biggest atlas she could carry. “Keep his attention so he won’t see me coming.”

Serenity weaved through the stacks until she heard two teen-aged girls giggling.

“Smaller than I thought it would be,” said one. More giggles.

Serenity peeked through a gap in the books and saw the back of a 1940’s style trench coat. Eased her way around behind him and stepped into his aisle.

Doom was standing in front of the man as requested, looking shocked, but now she smiled at Serenity and the surprise was gone. The trench coat spun toward her. Move fast. She opened the atlas and took one giant step forward. The opening of the trench coat rotated into view followed by the man’s grinning face and his…pride.

She slammed the heavy book shut on the man with a vengeance. He jumped and screamed and she yanked the book away with a nasty jerk.

He fell back against the stacks and put his hands over himself. “My rights.”

She held the book up in both hands like Moses handing down the commandments. “Freedom of the press trumps freedom of expression.” Shook it at him. “By. The. Book.”

She shoved him aside.

“Come back again, Cy, and I’m going for the unabridged dictionary.” The teenaged girls giggled at “dictionary.” She held the book out to Doom and the girl took it like she was accepting a dead rat.

“Shelve this, please.” She looked back at Cy and said, “I’m tired of wasting my big books on you little pricks.”