The Chapman Branch

Written by  Ron Carlson

I've always liked what that one guy said in that one book about being able to stand up anywhere in Salt Lake City to see exactly where you are; it's an open place, held in the hands of the mountains like a big book. I grew up on the West Side across Main Street and the railroad tracks and, in fact, the river. We had to cross the river to go to our library, the Chapman Branch on Ninth West, a beautiful building full of books, and a brass bust of its benefactor, Mr. Andrew Carnegie.

My parents were readers and I read a lot of books as a kid, including that one about that guy in the frozen north and another about those guys on the island, but it was at the Chapman Branch that I read that one book where the one guy goes down the river with the other guy, and I was into this book, that is, it had established a world which I could believe in as I had no other, and then those guys meet one other guy and he is killed, and when he was killed I looked up. I remember right where I was sitting in the Chapman Branch and I remember the rectangular wooden table where I sat and the shelves of books into which I looked in the yellow library light. I knew that this was just a book, but something had come out of it for me in a way that felt too real, unfair, close. I held the book in my hands; it was that one book by that one guy. It was just a book. And the fact that it was just a book, and that I could not put it down now that this thing had happened in there, changed reading as an activity forever.

I was twelve years old and would go to Jordan Junior High School in the fall, where I would read that one real long poem by that old guy and that wicked story by that one woman where the people draw lots and a nasty paperback about that bad girl who could be mean and for no reason! That night at the Chapman Branch Library, my mother came by my table with her arms full of books for my father and little brothers; it was time to go. As we drove back across the river to our house, and now it seemed a small river, hardly as dangerous as my mother had been telling me it was for years, I didn't tell my mother that something had happened. I didn't tell her things were going fine until this one kid was killed, and that his death was a surprise to me, a surprise I was still having trouble getting over, and it was fifteen minutes later. I was in a kind of grief for that kid, a funny feeling that persisted even though I'd closed the book. I played it over in my mind, and with the sadness, I had anothersecret thought: how did he do that, the writer, how did he make such a book? I could see Salt Lake City laid out like a story, the capitol, the ancient spires and the towers of old downtown, the little houses starting to creep up the hillsides, and I wondered, how would one make such a book?

Additional Info

  • Location: 577 S 900 W, Salt Lake City, UT 84104