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:

 

Rate This Book

A friend and reader recently suggested that I offer a rating system with my posts.  I do try to give a clue in the last paragraph about how I feel about the book, but rating is tricky.  I think most books are likeable – and someone will like a book – whether or not I do.  Other books no one will like – even if I rave over it.

But – the rating system might be worth a try.  Here are a few of my latest reads with my ratings, just in case you didn’t detect my sly innuendo in the review.

Rating System:

✓✓✓✓✓ – Don’t miss it!  Hope you like it as much as I did.
✓✓✓✓ – You should read it (my opinion anyway)
✓✓✓ – Worth a try – at least to the first 50 pages
✓✓ –  You might need some chocolate to get you through
✓ – Watch TV instead

My Ratings on Recent Reads: 

  • State of Wonder  ✓✓✓✓✓
  • To Be Sung Underwater ✓✓✓✓
  • The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen ✓✓✓
  • The Borrower ✓✓✓✓
  • The Space Between Us  ✓✓✓
  • Come to the Edge ✓✓
  • Because of Mr. Terupt ✓

Let me know if you agree with my assessments – and what you think of the rating system.

Want to Get Away? Read “The Borrower” by Rebecca Makkai

Some days, who doesn’t want to hop in the car and keep driving – as far and as long as you can?  I remember mornings when blue skies and endless roads held a promise of escape, and it was hard to turn into that parking lot for work.  In Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower, twenty-six year old children’s librarian Lucy Hull, unexpectedly finds herself on a road-trip with her favorite library patron, ten-year old Ian Drake.

The story centers on two characters: Lucy, the only daughter of Russian immigrant parents, who is doing her time at her first job since graduating from Mount Holyoke as an English major; and Ian, the library regular who devours any books Lucy suggests.  Unfortunately, Ian’s mother, suspicious of fictional influence, does not approve of all of Lucy’s selections.  Lucy knows books, and so does Makkai, as she cleverly inserts classic book titles and songs-for-the-road, incorporating the storyline from some favorites you will recognize.

Lucy is happy to conspire with Ian to help him read books about anything he is interested in – sometimes, checking out the books to herself to maintain his cover, other times subversively slipping Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing into his backpack.  Mrs. Drake has enrolled Ian in Pastor Bob’s anti-gay camp, and her list of readings is confined to Pastor Bob’s suggestions.

When Ian packs his knapsack, runs away from home, and hides out in the library, Lucy decides to cooperate in his escape plan – and the road trip begins. The odyssey continues from Missouri to Chicago to Pittsburgh and Vermont.  Makkai uses other characters along the way to add humor and convenient ploys that work to help Lucy in the end.  When Lucy and Ian make a rest stop at her parents’ luxurious apartment on the lake in Chicago, Lucy’s Russian immigrant father tells his story of his harrowing and heroic escape from Russia.  Later, when she visits her uncle in Pittsburgh, the story gets retold, and the family’s connections to shady underworld characters is confirmed.  Having connections can be very helpful when you are in danger of being arrested for kidnapping.

Makkai cleverly spins the story so that you vacillate between wondering if Lucy and Ian will be caught, and hoping that they will get away.  Makkai’s plays on words are sometimes funny:  a scene in a New England bar when a man who has had too much to drink calls her a libertarian, and she thinks she – the librarian –  has been discovered; Lucy listing the seven deadly sins – Sloth as measured in calories not burned; Avarice – apparent sense of entitlement; Lust – untalented musician slept with…

It all works out in the end.   If you can laugh and just enjoy the ride, you will enjoy the adventures of this unlikely pair, despite – or maybe because of  – Makkai’s obvious political musings.