I’d like to tell you about my favorite book that I had never read.
I grew up in a small Texas town. One of the few things to do there was go to the local library. I remember going with my mother when I was young and walking up and down the aisles in the “adult” section looking at the books that were beyond my comprehension.
I would wander the fiction section looking at the covers of sci-if and fantasy novels. One of my favorite books to pull off the shelf and stare at was Dune*. I remember going week after week to the library and gravitating directly to that particular shelf and pulling out that book to stare at its cover.
This was my favorite book, and I had never read it. I didn’t know what was contained within the covers of Dune. I just know that I was transfixed.
The library itself was small and had that “old dusty book” smell to it – that special mixture of old paper, aging carpet and dust. Taking novels that had sat dormant on the shelf and bringing them to your face intensified that smell. I still love that smell.
To this day the smell of a dusty book takes me back to that library, wandering the aisles, and staring in wonder at book covers. And that book cover reminds me of that library smell.
It would be years before I would finally read Dune, though I did get exposure to the story through the 1984 film by David Lynch. I remember watching the movie – which I quite enjoyed, and still enjoy – on a small TV at my grandmother’s house. For years this was my only exposure to Dune, and the movie always reminded me of the library, its smell and staring at the cover of Dune.
My college years did bring me the Dune II game – the mother of the RTS genre. Hundreds of hours were spent on the digital sands. I finally did read Dune in 2017. I really enjoyed the book. It is a masterpiece. But since then, I’ve learned so much more about the little library I visited as a kid.
My father was my Scouting leader, and continued to serve for decades after I earned my Eagle Scout rank and aged out of the program. He also started a program to feed children who received free school lunches during the school year, while they were at home on summer break. My father served for years in the “Jaycees” (the Jr. Chamber of Commerce), on the Session in our church, and in the Texas Woodcarvers Guild (where he served as President).
In short, my father was my role model for public service. I thought I had heard about everything he had done and seen all the awards and accolades he had received. I figured if I did half as much as he did to serve my community, I would have done well (and some good).
But a couple of years ago at another awards banquet, I heard a new story about my father’s community service. It was a story that surpassed anything I’d heard of him and wrapped up everything about who he was. It was a story about how he helped to build that library that I had loved so much.
I knew that my dad had been a member of the Library Board, but I hadn’t realized that he was instrumental in actually organizing and building the structure. Citizens of the town had come together and decided that they wanted a library for the community. They came together, organization and planned the building of the library.
The community wasn’t one of great means, so they fundraised, used donated materials and donated labor. The library board wanted everyone in the community involved in the planning and the building, as they wanted everyone in the community to have a stake in library and feel welcome.
The library board wanted someone to reach out to African American members of the community to invite them to be part of the process, and of the building of library. My father volunteered and visited every black church in the area, speaking to ministers and congregants, inviting them to be a part of the effort.
My father succeeded in bringing the entire community together to build the library, and to ensure that everyone felt welcome. He organized an inclusive community to build the library – literally. He worked at build days where they literally raised that building by hand – framing, masonry, dry wall. And apparently, I walked around as a three- or four-year-old handing out nails to workers building a place of learning and community for everyone.
So now, when I think of Dune, I think of not only a book cover that I poured over, or the dusty smell of that library. I think of my father who reached out to black congregations in the community to build a place where everyone felt ownership and felt welcome. I think of old school library cards with metal number plates and a loud mechanical machine that stamped book cards, that the librarians would let me play with.
I think of a Halloween event where I dressed up as Dracula and came out of a coffin, scaring a bunch of preschoolers. I wore a handmade black cape with red lining and had the classic plastic teeth, and the librarian was dressed as the Cat in the Hat. But more than anything I think of the inclusive legacy that my father built and the behavior he modeled for me – even though it has taken me decades to fully realize it.
Years later I would help lead fundraising efforts for the library to purchase a new larger building, where it sits today. Even made the paper for it. Even then, my father never talked about what he had done to build the original library, and how I was following in his footsteps.
Dune is a masterpiece of a novel. I’m not sure it’s my favorite novel I’ve read; I’m not sure what that would be. But it still is my favorite novel that I had never read. It’s amazing how an unread book can weave through your entire life and bring you full circle to see the legacy being laid before you.
I haven’t seen the new Dune movie from Denis Villeneuve yet, but I’m looking forward to it. My wife just recently asked to watch the trailer again because she “loves Zendaya.” So, hopefully I’ll be immersing myself in the sands of Arrakis soon.
*In researching Dune novel covers, I now realize that it was God Emperor of Dune.