There Is A Place And A Time

Note: this post started its life as a thread on mastodon which you can find here.

I was working at the public library when the final Wheel Of Time book came out. And when the book hit the shelves, the people who were first in the holds queue were feverish for this book in a way I had never seen anybody be for any book.

I vividly remember this one guy who was waiting, his nose practically pressed against the door, for us to open on the morning of the first day we got the book.

I think about him all the time.

He walks up to the circulation desk, hands over his library card, and asks for his book.

Thing is, we're still processing delivery, holds, and bookdrop throughout most of the morning, well after opening. Things are a mess and are in disarray. I go and check the holds shelf, and I go check in the back. But, as often happens at this time of day, just after opening, I have no idea where this guy's book is. Could be in a pile waiting to be scanned in at somebody's computer. Could be on somebody's cart waiting to be placed on the holds shelf. Could even be lost in transit! No idea.

So I tell him what I tell everybody in this case. I've delivered this line plenty of times before. It's not unusual.

“Super sorry, but I'm not sure where your book is right now. We're still processing lots of stuff. If you give us a couple hours, or even better, check back tomorrow, I'm sure it will turn up.”

I remember the look on his face because it, unlike the situation, was unusual. I'm used to seeing somebody be crestfallen or annoyed in this particular scenario. What this guy did was somehow allow my words to pass over and around him without penetrating whatsoever. This was a total dismissal and rejection of the entire premise. An absolute, no-room-for-negotiation, refusal to accept the answer. But not in an aggressive or argumentative way. There simply was no room in his universe for such an answer. It did not compute. It was an invalid state. I had attempted to divide by zero.

What I didn't know about then was the legacy of The Wheel of Time and that this guy had probably been reading it his entire life, and had been waiting for this book to be delivered into his hands for just as long. Now that it was finally here, he was not going to “check back tomorrow.”

Out of compassion, I tried again. I scoured every surface, looked at every cart, checked every pile of books, processed or not. Called in help.

Found his book.

Triumphantly returned to him back at the circulation desk.

He locks eyes with the book and never looks up again as I scan it, slip the receipt inside, and finally place it in his hands. Still without looking up, he turns and walks out of the library.

I had worked at the library for years at that point and had never seen such single minded devotion to a title, author, or series.

Later I learned what the Wheel of Time actually is.

Lauded by some as the best fantasy series of all time.

Learned about how Sanderson saved the series and completed it after Jordan died.

I was intrigued and curious.

Later still, I finally decided to do it. I was going to jump in and probably dedicate the next 18 months or so to reading the series.

I struggled through the first three books waiting for it to get good. Or even tolerable. But it never did.

These books were bad. The characters were bad, the writing was bad, the plot was bad. It was all bad, and laborious and tedious to read.

Which means it was a “place and time” series, boosted by its longevity.

The series spanned 23 years of real life. If you started reading the first novel, when it came out, at 12 years old, you would have been 35 by the time the final novel was published.

There is serious power in that. I get it. Few things are as compelling as the comfort and familiarity of something you have loved for a long time.

And those things are more often than not best left in that place and time. It's painful to go back and revisit them and discover they don't hold up.

So yeah, I always think of that one guy. And I continue to feel happy that he had the experience he had. That he got to grow up with this series over the years, and that I found his damn book, which I'm sure he read several times in the two weeks you're allowed to have it.

I'm sure I could have been him if I had started the series when he did.

I kind of regret that I didn't, and I kind of mourn the version of me that could have been as enraptured as he was by this book.