2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 1 book toward her goal of 285 books.

2023 Reading Challenge

2023 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 265 books.

The Freebie (Fiction) – Part One of I Don’t Know How Many

Let’s try this again…  (teehee)  (For an explanation of that, see yesterday.  Incidentally, I’m still not finished writing this one, so don’t know how many parts you’ll get.

I promised my soon-to-be mother-in-law that I’d get some more of my fiction on here one of these days, so here goes – it’s a rather darkish tale about the price of free books, with no bearing on any real event I’m aware of, thank goodness…  (teehee)  Enjoy!


The Freebie

She was dying to finish the book.  Literally.

How on earth had she ended up here, like this, crouched in a corner in her own living room, reading her death in every turn of the page?  It was positively ridiculous, so contrived, there’s no way anyone would really write this garbage – at least not anyone she reads.  She hates when a book is ridiculous and contrived.  She has, in fact, been thinking about developing a special rating just for those books – the ones that expect the reader to suspend disbelief so far beyond the bounds of believability or to float in the outer fringes of the mental ether. They would get rated in raspberries, flashing emoticons that stick out their tongues and waggle their fingers in their ears and make goofy blurping sounds.  If she were reading this story instead of living it, she would have to give the book a full five out of five raspberries, it was that over-the-top. Unfortunately, she had a feeling there wouldn’t be any review of this one.

So how on earth had she ended up here?  Because of the promise of free books, of course.  Her mother always told her there was no such thing as a free lunch.  Now I’m about to be the free lunch, Callie thought, barely suppressing the demented flood of giggles that threatened to press its way out of her mouth.

It was entirely possible Callie was a little hysterical at this point.

It might not be the best story Callie had ever encountered, but it was her story nonetheless.  And every story needs a beginning.

Callie always loved to read.  She got her first library card when she was five years old – the youngest patron of the Granville Public Library ever, or so the nice counter lady with the blue-white hair told her.  She had been reading for a full year at that point, and had burned through the meager collection of storybooks that her parents had accumulated at garage and yard sales some months ago.  She read voraciously and quickly, devouring books the way her daddy devoured his chicken dinner on Sunday nights, as though someone were about to snatch them away if the meal took too long.

When her momma first told her about the library, Callie thought she was lying.  She couldn’t imagine a place that would let you read as many books as you wanted for free.  Stores didn’t do that – Callie knew you had to have money to read books in stores.  Money was always tight in Callie’s house – even at five years old she recognized that.

She had once picked up a book at the Wal-Mart, hoping to breeze through it while her momma hunted for bargains in the clearance aisle, only to have a mean-faced clerk yank it away from her while mumbling about kids and their sticky hands…  Callie frowned at that – her hands were not sticky, her momma always made sure she was clean and stickum-free when they left the house – and when she complained to her momma about the mean lady, all she got in return was a sigh and a long-suffering, “some people are just plain mean, baby.”

The first time her mother took her to the library, Callie couldn’t believe her eyes.  She kept staring, wide-eyed, at the shelves upon shelves full of books.  Even though the nice counter lady told her she could borrow as many books as she wanted, Callie still kept waiting to get her hand slapped or to have books snatched away from her.  After she wandered the aisles of the children’s section for a full hour – her momma patiently waiting for her to make each selection – Callie finally settled on six books.  But even before they left the library, Callie was already planning her next visit.  Now that she knew about the magical library, she fully intended to come back as often as her momma would let her.

They returned to the library every week.  Every week for just over six years.  Every week until Callie’s momma couldn’t leave the house anymore because of The Cancer.  That was how everyone said it – The Cancer, fully capitalized, as though it were a proper noun or another person who lived in the house.  Callie had just turned twelve when her momma died.  Her daddy seemed lost without her momma there by his side; it was like a part of him had been switched off.  He neither laughed nor cried – he simply stared at the world around him with a vaguely puzzled look, as though he could not understand where he was or how he had gotten there.

Callie lived with her father in the same house for eleven more years.  During that time she graduated from high school with honors and enrolled at the local community college, and when she had gleaned all she could from there, she matriculated at the nearby branch of the state university.  Even after her momma was no longer there to take her on their weekly visits, Callie remained a faithful visitor to the library.  Her daddy never got over the loss of her momma, and while he tried his best with Callie, hers would have been a lonely life indeed if it were not for the library.

All of the librarians and staff knew Callie by name.  They looked out for her, called her “dear” and “darlin’”.  They brought her cookies and sandwiches, leftover meatloaf or pot roast – all in neat plastic containers with brightly color-coordinated lids.  She was like family to them, and they to her.  They watched her work her way through the children’s collection and into young adult, and then on to the adult books – much too soon, it seemed to some of the older, more traditional ladies, but they mostly trusted Callie’s judgment so tried not to interfere.  Callie’s appetite for books was never sated and her taste ran the gamut, from classics to trashy romance, from science fiction to memoirs.  Bill, one of the janitors who had spent forty years cleaning the carpets and dusting the stacks, joked that the only reason Callie finally left her father’s house was because she had read everything in the small community library and needed to move on to a bigger town.

There was some truth in Bill’s joke.  Callie did finally leave to move on to a bigger town – not because she had read everything in “her” library, but because her daddy told her to.  He told her that her momma would not have wanted her to waste her time living in the past, like he did, and that there was more to the world than books and memories.  “You can’t live in your head forever, baby girl,” he told her.  “You gotta get out there and live in the world.”  And with that he handed her the biggest wad of money she had ever seen in her life – money he had painstakingly saved, a dollar here, seventy-five cents there, for the past eleven years.  He told her that he loved her and that both he and Granville would always be there waiting for her, but that she had to go find her way in the world now.  And he told her not to spend all the money on books.

With that, Callie was off.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, one medium-sized suitcase, and six hundred and fourteen dollars in carefully ironed bills, she moved out of her father’s house and into an apartment in Philadelphia. Why Philadelphia? Because it was the home of the nation’s first lending library, of course. Callie figured she could find a job teaching or working in a bookstore or even – gasp! – at the library itself. She knew she would be fine as long as she could make enough money to live on and occasionally send some cash home to her daddy – well, as long as she could do that and feed her book habit at the city’s libraries.

She had read extensively about Ben Franklin and how he initiated the concept of the lending library in a time when books were too dear for the average person to purchase on his own. Thus was born the Library Company of Philadelphia – a subscription organization that allowed wealthy townspeople to pool their resources and generate enough capital to purchase a collection of books to be shared among members. Callie was all too familiar with the problem of being too cash-poor to purchase a collection of books, so she was eager to visit the now-free Library Company, as well as the Free Library of Philadelphia (the city’s most august lending library), the numerous specialty collections and libraries operated by Philadelphia’s scientific and historical organizations, and the various university libraries scattered throughout the town.

Callie knew her father meant well when he told her to live in the world, and she intended to follow his advice. She would live and work in one of America’s oldest cities, absorbing history and culture and knowledge from as many people and places as possible. But she didn’t intend to abandon her books – not by a long shot, not even for her daddy.

Callie found a job at a large bookstore right on Rittenhouse Square on the same day that she found a small basement apartment in a neighborhood near the convention center – an neighborhood that was struggling to remain dignified long after many of its nearby neighbors had conceded the fight. She could walk to work and to many of the libraries. Callie didn’t earn a lot at the bookstore, of course, but she had relatively simple tastes (as did most Granvillians), her rent was manageable, and she was able to pick up an extra shift or two at the store most weeks. She was able to pay her bills and still send a little something home to her daddy every now and again. And of course she was able to read to her heart’s content – which she did, quite happily, for the better part of a year. She couldn’t imagine being happier.

And then she saw it.

She was searching for directions to a new library a work-friend had mentioned. It was located in one of the Northwest suburbs, and she was trying to figure out how to maneuver public transportation to get her there and back after her shift ended that evening. Callie loved public transportation – she could go anywhere she wanted for only a couple of dollars round trip, and she could read and people watch during the journey. As she finished writing down the combination of trains, buses, and walking directions, her eyes scanned the ads running down the side of the page. One immediately jumped out at her: “Free Books For Reviews!”

Intrigued, Callie clicked and was transported to the website of a small independent publishing house that was offering book bloggers free ARCs in return for reviews. Callie had no idea what half of those words meant – what she did recognize was the word “free”, and that it was presented in the context of books. So she did a few quick Google and dictionary searches until she learned what a book blogger and an ARC were (someone who runs a website devoted entirely to writing about the books they read, and an advanced reader copy or uncorrected proof version of a book that is scheduled for publication, respectively).

It was as though the universe itself had smiled on her. Callie couldn’t believe it – people would send her free books, that she could read before anyone else, and that she could keep, and all she had to promise in return was to write about them online? It seemed too good to be true, and if Callie had learned one thing in her life, it was that if something seemed too good to be true it likely was.


(To be continued…)

3 comments to The Freebie (Fiction) – Part One of I Don’t Know How Many

  • Sharon Franclemont

    Oh my goodness. Thank you. I so enjoy your stories, and anxiously await “to be continued” . I hope soon others will say the same as they read your published books.

  • But of course Franclemom – and thank you for wanting to read more! I’ve had a couple of other people comment favorably today through Facebook – you have no idea what it means to hear people say they are eagerly awaiting more of your writing… Hoooray, she said! 🙂

  • Great set up with the appreciation of anything “free.”

    “he simply stared at the world around him with a vaguely puzzled look, as though he could not understand where he was or how he had gotten there.”- Loved this description. Very real.

    Look forward to more.

    Paul D. Dail

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