Lost in the Stacks

Mahesh Rao commentary on libraries in his New York Times essay “Lost in the Stacks,” reminded me of how libraries have nurtured my own love of reading.  My first memory of going to a library is linked to  holding my mother’s hand as we walked through the park to a tall building – an adventure to a new world.  Later in college I found comfort in hiding behind books in a remote carrell as I studied obscure passages.  Just like Rao, I inadvertently forgot to return a book or two, discovered years later in my own collection.

Librarians, more than authors, have always held my reverence.  Some are modestly taciturn, never revealing their wealth of information until asked.  Others, like Rao’s North London friend, are ready to share common interests and review my selections as I check out more books than I can carry.

library-cc-keka-e1302489395542

Trinity College Library, Dublin

Books about libraries draw me in.  Some of my favorites:

  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon with the Cemetery of Forgotten Books is a library for literary works no longer remembered by anyone. Daniel  finds mystery and adventure, as books salve the lingering pain of his mother’s death.
  • The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai connects a children’s librarian with questionable ties to the Russian mafia to a curious 10-year-old boy whose parents enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material.
  • This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson challenges the stereotype of librarians.  See my review – here
  • By Its Cover by Donna Leon uses a rare books collection in a prestigious Venice library as the setting for the twenty-third in her series of Guida Brunetti mysteries. My review – here.

 

 

Do you have a favorite book about libraries?

Related:

 

By Its Cover by Donna Leon

9780802122643_p0_v3_s260x420While reading Donna Leon’s latest mystery – By Its Cover – I remembered the first time I had heard of a book thief targeting rare books for their maps and illustrations.    When I lived in Maryland,   Gilbert Bland was caught stealing maps from rare books  in the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, Maryland.  In her publication “Preventing Library Theft,” Audrey Pearson noted:

“…Bland had used a fake identification card to use the library, and had been committing various premeditated thefts, with plans for many more recorded in his notebook. Upon further investigation, Johns Hopkins officials found that Bland had also visited the libraries at {other universities}. Many map dealers around the country had been purchasing the rare maps from Bland for some time, and had acknowledged that they always wondered how he continually had such great inventory… However, Bland had such low prices that most dealers chose not to question his practices… For all of the damage Bland did to libraries, and all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars of theft, Bland was only sentenced to eight to ten months in prison.”

Since that theft in 1995, other maps have been ripped from rare book collections in the United States, and in 2012, thousands of books in Naples’ sixteenth century Girolamini Library were systematically damaged and stolen for sale on the black market.  Donna Leon uses a rare books collection in a prestigious Venice library as the setting for the twenty-third in her series of Guida Brunetti mysteries.   This is my first experience with the expat American author and her hero in crime fighting, Guido Brunetti, Commissario in the Venice police force – how appropriate that the story is about books.

As Brunetti follows leads, including a former priest, an Italian playboy, and a Kansas professor, the murder of one of the prime suspects changes the rhythm of his pursuit.  I am only into the first 100 pages, but am already hooked.

If a mystery could be classified as literary, Leon may have found the formula.  Brunetti is well read and constantly including allusions in his conversation; his appreciation of the beauty of Venice and Leon’s descriptions through his thoughts and observations creates a beautiful backdrop and an appealing counter to the grisly reality of crime and corruption in the city.  At one point, Brunetti reminisces about the time he ran away to work in the fields for a day when he was twelve years old.  Returning home with his pittance wage, his mother asked him if he now realized “how hard a person had to work if all they had to work with was their body.” Lesson learned: “…all you’ll do is work for enough to eat. Even then I knew, I didn’t want to spend my life like that.”

The erudite police commissioner reads English history books at night, has conversations about philosophy with his wife, and stops to smell the Spring flowers on his way to work – all the while using his intellect to solve crimes.  But perhaps his comments on the political realities of the city offer the best insight into his internal struggle – the cruise ships ruining the canals, the corruption of the rich, the influence of the Church…  Brunetti’s character is as fascinating as the mystery he is solving.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

New Books Published in April

Whenever I read a promising review – usually in the New York Times or Washington Post – I immediately log onto my library site to order the book.  Inevitably, the library system does not yet have the book catalogued – or maybe even purchased.  So, I add the book to my list and promptly forget about it.

I have a friend who places his list next to his computer and checks into the library every day until he captures a place – usually the first or second in the queue.  By the time I remember to check, I am usually 50 or 60 on the waiting list;  popular “hot picks” sometimes place me at 273.  Of course, I could always buy the book, but what fun is there in that?

April has 4 new books I want to read.  And the library has yet to list them.  Maybe this will help me remember to keep checking.  If you get there first, please read fast and return the book for me.

            

National Library Week

Celebrate National Library Week  – visit a library.  USA Today’s travel section includes 10 great places where libraries turn a page from Seattle to Boston.

My favorite library is the Trinity College Library in Dublin – it looks like a movie set, and smells old and musty.

But the library that still impresses me the most is the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  It’s not just for Congress; I have a Library of Congress library card in my wallet – although it’s been awhile since I’ve been in its hallowed halls, waiting for my slip of paper request to become a book traveling down from the stacks.

These days I am a regular visitor to my community library, usually picking up the books I pre-ordered on line – no more lingering for me.

Books to Read:

  • I Took My Frog to the Library
  • This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cyberians Can Save Us All – check out the Review Here


This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

Did Marilyn Johnson know about the library closings in the UK, or about Borders biting the dust in the USA when she wrote This Book is Overdue! ?  Did she know Watson, the super computer was going to win an information battle over humans?  Even without a sense of foreboding, Johnson’s book is timely and reassuring.

As she wanders the stacks in assorted libraries everywhere – even cyberspace and Rome, Johnson forever quashes the stereotype of the librarian.  “Miss Marian” in now savvy and hip, possibly tattooed,  politically tuned in, and, of course, knowledgeable.  I once heard that the true mark of intelligence is not necessarily knowing the answer, but knowing where to look for it.  If you’ve been frustrated by the lack of the appropriate word to trigger a google search for what you really want, you may identify with Johnson’s mantra – we need human help – librarians, “who won’t try to sell us anything, or roll their eyes at our questions.”

Starting with her search for a childhood favorite, Easy Travel to Other Planets – (I checked, and it is in my library) – Johnson moves through libraries on the East Coast, but her banter and philosophy apply everywhere.   Johnson talks about librarians blogging – The Happy Villain (no longer active, so don’t try to find her) who disclosed all the secret horrible actions of library patrons when they think no one is looking –

“While waiting for your ride home, do not set fire to your homework to keep warm.”

and the rare librarian who was moving her relatives to the top of the reserve list for a popular DVD.  But when she mentions that her “librarians’ faces light up when {she} walks in; they’re My librarians” – I could relate.  My librarians have a special shelf for my reserved books – and are so grateful to have the space back when I pick them all up.

In her table of contents, Johnson succinctly summarizes each of her twelve chapters, so you can decide what you want to read.  After studiously reading through the first four, I decided to skip to Chapter 8, with the alluring title “Follow That Tattooed Librarian” that turned out to be a funny exposé on the other side of the serious librarian, usually reserved for conventions – not to be seen in public.  Eventually, I read the other chapters – in no particular order.

If you have been taking your librarian for granted, Johnson will change all that. Hail the librarian…

“Civil servants and servants of civility…information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes… guardians of my peace.”