A few days ago I spent time in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited, in order to be a featured writer at the annual Literary Feasts, which supports the Lexington Public Library. I was astonished, and gratified, to find that the good people of the Blue Grass opened their houses and arranged opulent spreads for five writers and a lot of guests; at one beautiful old house, the crystal and silver shimmered as much as the conversation, and the guests were far more glamorous than the usual attendees at book readings and lectures. I almost believed that us writers, who tend to be scruffy outsiders suspicious of all pomp, might be transformed into witty and beautiful partakers of the very good life.
That, of course, is a dream few of us aspire to even if it’s in any way realistic, which it’s not; writers barely make enough money to buy a cup of coffee these days as advances shrink and sales plummet. To be cosseted and cajoled for a couple of days are therefore even more precious as we struggle with our lack of importance in a world rattling on its way toward more and more electronic gadgets.
But something even more important than writerly self-esteem was conspicuous in Lexington, and that is the devotion of its citizens to their big handsome downtown library and its branches. That devotion in the end matters more than the number of books any of us writers sold. The money raised is the heart’s blood of their library, which is surely the real reason for crystal and silver, kindness, and good food.