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.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book
Jon Agee and Tommie dePaola probably were not thinking about politicians or government shut downs when they wrote these picture books for children, but maybe they were trying to ingrain some thoughtfulness into children at a young age – hoping it would stick with them into adulthood.
Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other. The key words are “supposed to.” A brick wall runs down the spine in the center of book, and the action takes place on both sides. As the “safe” side slowly disintegrates and floods, the knight is forced over to the other side, where he thinks the monsters will eat him. Surprise – no one eats him and he makes new friends, What a waste of five billion dollars to build the wall. Preconceived notions about things and people, over a boundary or otherwise, are often distinctly wrong.
Tommie dePaola’s Quiet has a clear message for all adults tired of listening to the news or rushing around trying to perfect the holiday celebrations for all – “To be quiet and still is a special thing.” The little girl says, “I can think when I am quiet.” The little boy says, “I can see when I am still.”
For all those who know the beauty of quiet – pass it on to others.
It’s getting harder to avoid Jeff Bezos. I had sworn off buying books, joining Prime, or anything else from Amazon when the pop-eyed titan clashed with Hatchette book publishers. In 2014 The New York Times reported “(Amazon) controls nearly half the book trade, an unprecedented level for one retailer. And the dispute showed it is not afraid to use its power to discourage sales.”
The desire to own the universe has expanded since then to some of my favorites. Amazon is now the force behind the Washington Post, Audible, Goodreads, Whole Foods, Airbandb, and Uber. And “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is only available on Prime Video. I may not be able to hold out much longer from the persuasion of persistent marketing.
Yes, Virginia, I did finally give in and subscribe to Amazon Prime – bingeing on Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan. I christened my Whole Foods account today with a sweep of my App, buying many of the tempting (but not needed) Prime Savings items. I laughed at John Kelly’s article in the Washington Post with his stack of unread New Yorkers (he knows me well), and I dowloaded more books on Audible. I’ve read and enjoyed most of the Goodreads Choice Awards including Moyes’ Still Me and Hannah’s The Great Alone, but I still wonder why most of the prestigious book award winners were not included. Where were?
- Pulitzer Prize winner Less by Greer
- Pen/Faulkner Award winner Improvement by Joan Silber
- National Book Foundation Award The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
- Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman by Anna Burns
On a quick search, I found I could, if I wanted to, order wine from Amazon, as well as my favorite Illy coffee, products from Trader Joe’s, and live goldfish – but no puppies…yet.
I hope Jeff Bezos appreciates my contribution to his space race – but I doubt he’s noticed.
Book reviews often tempt me to buy books, but the library is my first frame of reference. Sadly, I often find myself on a long wait list; by the time the notification comes for picking up my book, I’ve often forgotten I ordered it – or lost patience, bought it, and read it.
Here’s my recent stack of five ready at once, and three more are already waiting for pick up. Guess I better start reading. Which would you read first?
- Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean
- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman
- The Book That Changed America by Randall Fuller
- An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
Waiting for me at the library:
- Flora by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- Little by Edward Carey
- The Darkness by Ragnar Johasson