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.

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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?

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Rose of Fire – short story by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Clever marketing isn’t necessary for one of  Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s books, but who can resist a free story? Rose of Fire, a  Zafón short story, is a free download on iBooks, and ends not only with a tantalizing cliffhanger, but also continues with the first two chapters of  Zafón’s latest Barcelona adventure – The Prisoner of Heaven – a tease that’s hard to resist.

Rose of Fire reveals the origin of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the library from which a fortunate patron can take only one book in a lifetime. This secret repository is the premise for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novels: The Shadow of the Wind, its prequel The Angel’s Game; and now the sequel The Prisoner of Heaven.

If you’ve read Shadow of the Wind, familiar characters reappear – Fermin Romero de Torres, friend and former spy, and Daniel Sempere, now grown and still at the bookstore. The Prisoner of Heaven is the continuation of Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind – more intrigue, mystery, and danger in a Gothic tale- masked by the politics of the Franco dictatorship.

Zafón is one of my favorite authors and Shadow of the Wind is at the top of my books to recommend. The Prisoner of Heaven promises to continue the excitement, and, of course, I had to buy it after reading those first “free” chapters.

The Prince of Mist – first book from the author of The Shadow of the Wind

Before he created the haunting tale of The Shadow of the Wind – one of my favorite books; I’m still looking for the Cemetery of Lost Books – Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote young adult literature. In his author’s note, Zafon reveals that The Prince of Mist was his first published book.

Using familiar themes: good vs evil, be careful what you wish for, be faithful to your friends, and whatever you do, don’t make a deal with the devil – Zafón compels the story into fantasy, with a convincing dose of realism. In The Prince of Mist, Max and his sister, Alicia, meet a new friend, Roland, when they move to a beach front house to escape the war that threatens the city. The house holds old secrets and hidden threats; together the friends face off against an evil character in a wild adventure with clocks running backwards and old sunken ships with skeletons. The underwater scenes will have you holding your breath.

A fellow Zafón  fan told me about the book – a quick easy read before she settled into another of Zafón’s longer new publications – The Angel’s Game.  Zafón is an author who always delivers magic with exciting adventure.

I Read a Book on my iPhone – The Midnight Palace

I was desperate – my stack of books dwindled to none, no way to get to the library or a bookstore, back issues of The New Yorker consumed.  Then I remembered a book I had downloaded before a flight, just in case the two books I had with me were read before landing.  It was like having a stash of Girl Scout cookies hidden and forgotten in the freezer.  Saved!

Although I have resisted getting a Kindle, the phone was not so bad – backlit small font, with only two paragraphs per page.  I learned how to make it brighter, but not bigger.

The book may have had a lot to do with my perseverance.  If you’re a fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, you know how gripping and wild his tales are; if you miss a turn, you are lost, but if you stay with the action, he takes you to another world of villains and magic.

In The Midnight Palace, a young adult thriller, Zafon starts with twin babies saved from the ruthless killer of their parents, and then separated – the girl to live with their grandmother, the boy to live in an orphanage in Calcutta – never to meet until they are sixteen years old.  At the crucial time, they are thrown together to fight a mysterious killer, who seems to have inhuman powers (think Voldemort).  Their team of friends from the orphanage who have formed the Chowbar Society to be each other’s support – no matter what – find themselves embroiled in a thrilling mystery as they battle evil, and try to discover the power behind the turmoil.  Trains veer off tracks, fires combust without cause, eerie sounds, lurking shadows, strange apparitions …in the Harry Potter tradition…until Zafon brings it all to a satisfying ending.

The story is a page turner and my fingers flew over the screen.  After a while, I looked forward to sliding my finger to turn the page, as much as reading the words.  But I’ve returned to the comfort of my real books, and will save my foray in the futuristic electronic storyteller for my next emergency.

Rating – for the iPhone: ✓✓              for the book – ✓✓✓✓

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

The Little Shop Around the Corner

After reading Bob Minzesheimer’s Hope for Small Bookstores? in USA Today, I couldn’t help feeling a little satisfaction.  How long ago did the big blockbuster bookstores take over, to drive those little shops around the corner out of business?

Now that the tables are turning toward e-books and mail orders,  and they are feeling the pinch, customer service seems to be the only significant saving grace for any independent book stores still around.

Will the little shops make a come back?  Will it be enough that they have someone there who will be able to talk to you about books they have read? Is the cozy nook with soft seats and aromatic coffee brewing all day going to draw in readers who buy actual books?  Hope so…

Reminded me of  my favorite books about bookstores…

The Secret of Lost Things

The Shadow of the Wind