Batting 10,000 With M.O. Walsh

“Did you know,” my helpful clerk friend said as she checked out my daily quota of library books, “that you’ve checked out almost ten thousand books since you first got your library card?”

I blinked. “Seriously?”  That was over a decade ago, sure, but still. Ten thousand sounded like…a lot.

Then I blinked again. “Um, how do you know that?”

Clerk friend smiled. “It’s something the library software keeps track of. See?” She turned the screen and showed me my library record. And there it was: about 25 books shy of 10,000. I was at the reading equivalent of flipping over my odometer. It was a giddy, dizzying feeling.

For the next week I kept even more careful track of how many books I checked out and returned on any given day. I wanted to make sure I gave library book checkout #10,000 the gravitas it deserved.  Because my reading system is partially based on random chance, however, I couldn’t predict which book it would actually be. Would it be a meaningful, profound piece of literature? Some sort of symbolic message from the universe? On the surface I was open to whatever would happen, but underneath, I was secretly hoping the book would be a good one. Something that would make me think and/or feel. Something well-written, with a story that kept me riveted to my couch and characters I could care about enough to laugh and cry for. Something worth the emotional impact of four whole zeroes.

Lucky me, I got my wish.

Image courtesy of the Alabama Bookshop - click through for source page.

Image courtesy of the Alabama Bookshop – click through for source page.

My Sunshine Away is the story of an unnamed, thirty-something narrator thinking back to his childhood in Baton Rouge, and his years-long crush on the girl next door (yes, literally). When said girl, Lindy Simpson, is raped one humid summer in 1989, our narrator feels horror and shock. He is also, the reader soon learns, one of four people suspected of having committed the crime.

With a hook like that, I was pretty much destined to spend the next 48 hours or so in my favorite reading nook, burning through the chapters (good thing I checked out the book on a Friday). I’ve always been a sucker for a potentially unlikeable, unreliable narrator; the “Should I trust this guy?” aspect of that kind of storytelling keeps me on the edge of my seat, flipping pages like fury. But My Sunshine Away delivers on so much more than that.

There’s the tone, for starters, a wistful, thoughtful, meditative recollection of days gone by. The use of flashback is also extremely clever, to the point that, the first time readers get a clue to the big reveal, they might miss the subtle paragraph in which it is delivered (I certainly did). Plotwise, the action accurately captures all the wonder and horror of being a teenager, replete with burgeoning sexual feelings, a smorgasbord of insecurities, and the gradually dawning realization that not only do adults not have life all figured out, they carry multiple insecurities of their own. The descriptive passages spool out like a love letter to Baton Rouge, helping me clearly imagine it in my mind, down to the last detail, and prompting me to add it to my “places to visit” list.

[Oddly enough–or maybe not–the chapter that really knocked me out was only tangentially related to the main plot. The narrator, recalling the early days of his fascination with Lindy, describes what happened in his classroom the day of the Challenger explosion. Having experienced a day like that myself, I found myself furtively wiping away tears and mourning for all those imaginary little kids whose world had been rocked in the same way.]

My Sunshine Away is an emotional, gripping trip through the tortures of adolescence, and it is worth every last intense reading minute. I couldn’t have picked a better book to celebrate library checkout ten thousand if I’d tried. I like to think of it as a thank you from the fiction gods, a lovely reward for my many years of faithful library use. If you are a fan of lush, literary sort-of-mysteries-but-mostly-coming-of-age-tales, you are cordially invited to experience My Sunshine Away for yourself, in print, audio book, and digital audio.

Does this sound like your cup of tea? Have you already read it or reserved it? How many library books do you think you’ve checked out in your lifetime? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

–Leigh Anne



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12 responses to “Batting 10,000 With M.O. Walsh

  1. I don’t know how many library books I’ve checked out, but I feel as if I have passed 10,000 long ago. In honor of this being my first ever blog to read and follow, however, that experience should be marked in some special way. I feel as if the universe handed me a gem for my virgin trek into the vastness of the Internet. I knew nothing about the writer of this blog. It was selected by sheer random. But, I enjoyed reading it and just the thought of communicating with its writer has been fun. When you receive this, whomever you are, I hope your day is made happier by knowing that you gave great pleasure to someone totally a stranger. Thank you, and keep writing! Sincerely, Lynette

    • Lynette, I cannot thank you enough for your compliment! Eleventh Stack is honored to be your first blog post EVER – the writing team hopes you’ll continue to enjoy our madcap literary adventures as we write about the many wonderful things you’ll find at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

      Leigh Anne

      just one cog in the magnificent blog machine

  2. I hope you continue to write in addition to reading. Your post was a real pleasure to read.

    • Thank you, Leigh Anne and Beth,

      I’m just figuring out this blogging business one step at a time.Hope I’m doing okay. I’ll just continue hitting buttons until I’m stopped! I have a blog, too, which I just started. It’s new territory, but I’m enjoying the process.

      No, I haven’t read this particular book, but it has moved up on my list of books to read. Thank you for the introduction!

      What a treat to be talking to the Carnegie Library! Thanks again!

  3. lectorconstans

    That’s an impressive accomplishment!!! It’s too bad that Gold Stars have fallen out of fashion for our cohort. There are many who have not even seen 10000 books. At some point, however, as with age, one stops counting.

    Books are a bit like rabbits – they just keep coming.

    PS: I noticed the “25 books” and “next week”. My laser-like powers of deduction lead me to conclude that you’re a pretty fast reader.

    Do you like to finish one at a time, or can you read in parallel? I can do parallel, but only with 2, and it’s even better if one’s fiction and the other isn’t.

    • Excellent questions – I have to confess that, while I am a pretty fast reader, I only finish about half the books I check out. I’m a fan of the Nancy Pear rule: a book has 50 pages to impress me, or I give it the heave-ho and move on to the next thing. And I’m getting more finicky with age, too…

      I’m always reading in parallel, though. Four or five books in my bag, one in every room in the house, two TBR bookshelves…. :)

  4. I have this book checked out from the library right now, but am afraid I have others I need to read for book clubs and reviews first and might not get to it before I need to bring it back. I wish our library system tracked number of checkouts like that. That’s definitely a milestone! I’m glad the fiction gods smiled on you. I’ve worked in libraries for over 15 years (which makes it SO easy to bring home stacks of books!) so I imagine my checkout stats would be up there, but they’re spread out over several library cards!

    • Laurie, I feel you – so many things to read, so many different reasons/responsibilities, so little time! Thanks for the good wishes – I’m hoping by the time I retire, I’ll have cracked 20 or 30K.:)

  5. bjsscribbles

    Just been looking around your blog and found the reading interesting. Followed your blog, inspiration to make me write more

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