How many have learned to read because of Wise? He lost count long ago. Hundreds, maybe thousands. He doesn't care. As director of libraries for Bolivar County, one of America's least literate places, where 41% of 40,000 residents can't read, Wise keeps his mind on what needs doing, not what's been done, which might be why he looks so cranky.
He glances out his office and spots someone headed toward Fiction, meaning another reader will soon discover the picklock words of Flannery O'Connor or Joseph Conrad, another person will soon escape the Delta, using one of Wise's libraries as the point of departure. Such is the hope, anyway, that's given shape to Wise's last 30 years.
It's a long time for anybody at one job, 30 years. For Wise it feels like 130, because he's spent most of it fighting arsonists, bureaucrats, censors, racists, tornadoes, apathy, poverty, thieves — and mold, that insidious green carpetbagger. He used to enjoy a good, clean fight, but less so lately. Lately, the hours have felt like days, the days like compressed eternities.
But eternity ends today. Come 5 o'clock, Wise is taking early retirement.
It's not a pretty story overall, how he busted his ass for 30 years begging for money and space for expanding the system, and how he used it extraordinarily wisely and effectively."