It seemed appropriate to borrow Susan Orlean’s The Library Book from the library, and her affinity with the institution caught me from the first page. I too remember walking to the library as a young girl, holding my mother’s hand, and gleefully letting go once inside to enjoy the freedom of roaming the stacks of children’s books. I too remember checking out so many books; we had to balance those slippery covers carefully as we walked home. If those books had disappeared in a fire, I would have been devastated. The Library Book tells the story of the 1986 fire that damaged or destroyed more than one million books in Los Angeles’ Central Library.
Perhaps the most poignant note in this book had me forgetting I was reading nonfiction:
Orleans says the fire reminded her of the proverb that when a person dies, it’s as if a library has burned to the ground. “A host of memories and stories and anecdotes that we store in our minds disappears when someone dies. It struck me as being a wonderful way of seeing why libraries feel like these big, collective brains — because they have the memories and stories of a whole culture inside them.
Orleans has produced a comprehensive book in her research, documenting what happens behind the scenes in libraries, how the librarians thought about the fire, then morphing into the library today as it adapts to the digital age. She takes the reader inside the stacks, observing and listening to the questions patrons ask and revealing how the library works. When she investigates the life of Harry Peak, the possible perpetrator, she never hopes to solve the mystery of the devastating fire – but you hope she will.
At times, her attempts at solving the mystery of the fire drives the narrative; other times, her observations of librarians and books connect with my curiosity and awe of both. I read it all carefully and slowly, and it has inspired three resolutions:
- To visit the Los Angeles Central Library,
- and find its collection of restaurant menus.
- To look for the Library’s float in this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.
Why do you travel? Maybe you want to attain an elusive airline or hotel elite status, want to explore new places before they change irrevocably, or you just don’t like staying home? Seth Kugel, the “Frugal Trsveler” for the New York Times always has a good reason to go and an easy way to enjoy when you get there. His column has inspired me many times, and now he has a book – Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious.
Spending hours trying to coordinate a trip to a conference in one city with visiting friends in another, while snagging a good hotel rate, confirming a decent airline seat, looking for the best deals on rental cars, and, of course, coordinating visits to the best bookstores, bakeries, and restaurants (in that order of priority) confirmed that being my own travel agent can be ludicrous, time-consuming, and frustrating.
When I read the preview for Kugel’s new book:
“Rediscovering Travel explains – often hilariously – how to make the most of new digital technologies without being shackled to them…While recognizing the value of travel apps, he recommends that travelers use them sparingly. Instead of using TripAdvisor to find a predictably pleasant restaurant, for example, he recommends wandering around looking into windows or asking a stranger for advice…”
I knew I had to read this book.
My favorite part of flying is the take-off. I like to close my eyes as the plane revs up its engines and begins the thrust down the runway. Against all odds, the tons of metal carrying people in their seats, luggage above their heads and below in the cargo hold, pounds of water and fuel – all miraculously rise into the air.
I always know that moment; I can feel it as the plane rises up off the ground, and nothing during the rest of the flight offers the same exhilaration. Recently, I zigzagged across the country, wondering if my checked luggage was following my erratic itinerary, but I enjoyed six take-offs in nine days, six ecstatic moments of floating.
As is my practice, I brought old New Yorker magazines to read during my flights – these were dated before the last Presidential election, so I ignored the predictions and focused on the articles.
Claudia Roth Pierpont’s amazing review The Secret Lives of Leonardo da Vinci convinced me to find Walter Isaacson’s biography Leonardo da Vinci when I landed. A short piece by Jonathan Franzen – Hard Up in New York – about his life before he was as rich and famous as a writer can be, inspired me to write this short piece.
When I finish reading, I usually offer the magazines to the flight crew, or drop them in the seatbacks as a surprise for the next traveler. I’ve been tempted to leave them in the terminal with a code I’ve used for books in Bookcrossing, a website that allows you to assign unique numbers to your books, and use these numbers to track your books as they travel across the globe. I’ve released a few books “into the wild” – in designated public places for others to find. Let me know if you try it.
And scroll down to see a picture of my travels on Instagram.
After reconnecting with an old friend today in Kansas City, of course our conversation meandered toward books. Her most recent read is a book set in Kansas City about one of my favorite authors. The local bookstore is, not surprisingly, sold out, so I’ve downloaded the ebook. What better book to read in Kansas City than Steve Paul’s Hemingway at Eighteen: The Pivotal Year That Launched a Legend – Hemingway’s year as a journalist for the Kansas City Star.
The Chicago Review Press Overview:
“In the summer of 1917, Ernest Hemingway was an eighteen-year-old high school graduate unsure of his future. The American entry into the Great War stirred thoughts of joining the army. While many of his friends in Oak Park, Illinois, were heading to college, Hemingway couldn’t make up his mind and eventually chose to begin a career in writing and journalism at the Kansas City Star, one of the great newspapers of its day. In six and a half months at the Star, Hemingway experienced a compressed, streetwise alternative to a college education that opened his eyes to urban violence, the power of literature, the hard work of writing, and a constantly swirling stage of human comedy and drama. The Kansas City experience led Hemingway into the Red Cross ambulance service in Italy, where, two weeks before his nineteenth birthday, he was dangerously wounded at the front.Award-winning writer Steve Paul takes a measure of this pivotal year when Hemingway’s self-invention and transformation began—from a “modest, rather shy and diffident boy” to a confident writer who aimed to find and record the truth throughout his life. Hemingway at Eighteen provides a fresh perspective on Hemingway’s writing, sheds new light on this young man bound for greatness, and introduces anew a legendary American writer at the very beginning of his journey.”
Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant is a book everyone who travels needs to read – maybe just not while you are on a plane. If you’ve read any of Bohjalian’s books, you know his stories are compelling page turners, full of intrigue and twisting plot lines – this one is no exception.
Cassie is the well-preseved middle-aged flight attendant for first class international flights with a trailer park background morphed into a sleek attractive boozy lifestyle. She meets Alex in seat 2C and the ride begins. I won’t tell you much about the story – you need to read it yourself and enjoy the many twists and anticipate who will do what and where, but to tempt you – this is a thrilling chase with murder and espionage and those fearful Russians. You will constantly question who is the unreliable narrator and probably be surprised at the ending. Maureen Corrigan has an excellent review for the Washington Post, if you want more details – Book Review.
As an added treat, Bohjalian referenced a number of authors I wanted to find. I actually stopped mid-chapter to find the Italian philosopher Carlo Levi’s essay on “Humanism,” and then found myself googling other philosophers.
Others mentioned in his acknowledgments – his research for the story – are now on my list to read:
- Sarah Heploa’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (page 214)
- Heather Poole’s Cruising Altitude
- Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot
- Richard Whittle’s Predator (a history of drones)