Thursday, September 12, 2019

Chestnut Street - by Maeve Binchy

I picked this book from a free book exchange shelf. I was drawn to the title as Chestnut Street is also the name of the street where my beach house is located. Binchy's Chestnut, however, is in Dublin, Ireland rather than on the south coast of Massachusetts.

Like the similarly titled The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros Binchy's book is a series of vignettes. Some of the characters and events overlap, but each chapter can stand on its own. The stories represent different periods of time from the 1950s to the 2000s. 

Several of the stories involve library users or library workers. 

First up is young Nessa (aka Vanessa) who was told by her sophisticated Aunt Elizabeth that "All that matters is seeing places of elegance, places with high standards". Such places include the Chester Beatty Library. Her aunt also explains that there is no reason for her (Vanessa) to take piano lessons as she can learn to appreciate music by borrowing music CDs from the library.

Additionally we meet:

  • Libby who found solace in volunteering in bookshops and libraries when her marriage fell apart
  • Molly who discovered that going to the library and reading all the books she "meant to read" was part of a miracle cure for insomnia
  • Brian "Bucket" Maguire who sought assistance from "Miss Mack in the library - before she went blind - for suitable books and games he could share with [his son] Eddie on his visits" 
  • And Gwendoline who wondered why her new neighbor Carla owned so many paperbacks "instead of borrowing them from the library, where they were free"
Usually when I take a book from a free book exchange, I send it back out into the universe of book readers by placing it on another free shelf, or in a Little Free Library. This one, though, I will put in a place of honor on the shelf in my own house on Chestnut Street.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Loves, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Beginnings - by Lydia Sherrer

Gotta love a magical librarian.

Lily Singer only had a vague sense that she was different growing up in Alabama with her mother, step-father, and step-siblings. She knew little about her birth father and her mother was evasive about him. Feeling like an outsider, she left home as soon as she could and ultimately became a librarian landing a job in the Archives at the Agnes Scott College McCain Library. The description of her office was enough to make me question the verisimilitude of the story, although the College and library are indeed real places.
Her office was a spacious room on the first floor, with a high ceiling and expansive windows. Tall bookshelves covered most of the other three walls, and a large, mahogany desk dominated the center of the room...The desk's dark wood surface was polished to a shine...
Also hard to believe is that not only has twenty-five year old Lily landed the prestigious position of Administrative Coordinator/Archives Manager, she did so without ever earning an advanced degree. While she has "four-years undergraduate work-study in the stacks" as well as a "BA in history and a minor in classics", generally such a position in an academic library in the 21st century would require, at the very least, a Master's of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. In Lily's case it looks like nepotism of the wizarding sort played a large part in her procuring the position.
Of course, Lily's love of books, organized nature, and library experience weren't the only reasons behind Madam Barrington's choice. The real reason was she'd needed someone to to take over as curator of the "Basement"- a secret archive beneath the McCain Library containing a private collection of occult books on magic, wizardry, and arcane science. Being a wizard herself, Madam Barrington had recognized Lily's innate ability soon after she'd begun her freshman year. 
This book contains two stories (or "episodes"). In each we find Lily using both her wisdom and her wizardry to solve a magical problem.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Richard Wright and the Library Card - by William Miller

In honor of Library Card Sign-up Month I chose this story based on an episode from Wright's autobiography Black Boy. 

Growing up in the segregated south young Richard Wright had limited educational opportunities. Neither was he able to use the library as it was open for whites only. As a young man he left his home in Mississippi and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. In Memphis he asked a white co-worker, Jim Falk, to help him to get books from the library. Wright took Falk's card to the library and told the librarian he was checking out books for Mr. Falk who was too busy to come himself. When further questioned by the librarian Wright insisted that we couldn't be checking out the books for himself because he couldn't even read. Once the librarian believed this lie Wright was able to check out any book he liked.

Richard Wright's love of reading ultimately inspired him to become a writer himself.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Waiting for the Biblioburro=Esperando el Biblioburro - by Monica Brown

Ana lives in rural Colombia and owns one book. She loves to read, but her village has no teacher, so she has no access to more books. One day she hears the clip-clop of hooves and discovers a librarian coming with two donkeys who are carrying books! The librarian tells her she can borrow some books and he will come back in a few weeks so she can return them and borrow others. Ana not only loves to read stories, she likes to tell them, too, so she writes her own book. A book about the biblioburros!

This is the second book I've read about the Biblioburro, but the first that is written in parallel English and Spanish text, which means this one is my favorite.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Based on her own experiences, and interviews with dozens of women, Klein's scholarly memoir describes how the purity movement (or what Jessica Valenti calls "the cult of virginity") perpetuates rape culture and creates a climate of humiliation for women. Far from being healthy, many of those who grew up with abstinence-only messages not only found themselves unable to have a healthy sexual relationship, their mental and physical health often suffered as well.

Libraries are mentioned in only three places in this work, but of course that is three times as many as are needed to secure a spot on my blog. They all came near the end. One involved a young evangelical man concerned about his obsession with women's bodies. He would walk "around campus, the library, the supermarket, perpetually hoping to see another accidental glimpse of ...something [cleavage, leg, skin]". He was, laughably, advised by his pastor to attend a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting, where, not surprisingly, he was met with "an awkward silence" after sharing his story.

Another passage recounted a gay lawyer's research in Washington, DC's theological libraries "where he continued to wrestle with the rift between theology he loved and the lived experience he couldn't refute."

The most interesting, however, was this passage of a young woman who told her story of contemplating suicide
Rosemary prepared for a trip to Europe, where she would spend her sophomore year of college. By the time she was packing her bags...she was so depressed that she was seriously planning her suicide. She would kill herself in a European library, she told herself. She had always loved books so much.
Ultimately, the trip had a healing effect when Rosemary found a brand of Christianity in Europe that focused on fellowship rather than shaming.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

American Dreamer - by Adriana Herrera

The most important criterion I have when I make my selection for Read-A-Romance-Month is that the book have a librarian as one of the main characters. Of course many books fill the bill, but since I only read 1-2 books of the genre per year any book I select has to be extra. Herrera's book made the final cut for this gringa bilingual librarian because Jude Fuller.

When blond librarian Jude surprises the swarthy Ernesto (Nesto) Vasquez (owner of the Afro-Caribbean food truck parked outside the library) by flirting with him in Spanish Nesto falls hard. The two waste no time in beginning a hot and steamy relationship. So lucky that it turns out they are neighbors, too!

This one follows the expected three point romance plot with a "boy meets boy" twist. I also liked that in lieu of the "sassy gay friend" we so often see in boy-girl romances Herrera gives that role to the meddling Carmen, smart-aleck straight friend to Jude. And, of course, I loved that Herrera recognizes that not only do librarians have sex, it can actually be intense.

I have to admit though that the millennial main characters in this book stressed this baby boomer out a bit. They worked 12-14 hour days and then came home and seemed to have energy for acrobatic sex at 11:00 at night. I was always worried that they would oversleep the next day, or simply burn themselves out.

Find out more about the author and her works at

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls - by Anissa Gray

When Althea and Proctor Cochran are arrested on food-stamp fraud, and for skimming money from the fundraising charities they organized, their teen aged twin daughters, Kim and Baby Vi, are left in the care of Althea's sister Lillian. Lillian also cares for her deceased ex-husband's grandmother. Additionally, she must negotiate the relationships she has with her other siblings (Joe and Viola).

There are three types of libraries mentioned in this work: prison, public, and home. Each appears to  represent both a place of hope and of harsh reality.

Proctor uses the prison library to verify that there is a women's prison in West Virginia, when he is told he could potentially end up at a men's facility in Virginia. He writes to his wife
I was talking to our friend the other day, and he was naming off a couple of possibilities. He mentioned a prison out there in Virginia...He was going on about how he heard it was easy time out there in the federal system and I said, man, I don't know what "easy time" is. He got me and tried to make up for it by telling me about a ladies' prison out in West Virginia, and he said wouldn't it be nice if Althea ended up there?...And you know what? For a minute, your boy was happy, just imagining it. I even went to the library and looked it up. And there it was, West Virginia with what looked like a little arm, snuggled up there with Virginia. Then, it hit me: This is what it's come down to...I can't believe that this is the best we can hope for...

Althea's fellow inmate Mercedes describes a favorite teacher (Ms. Peterson) she had growing up who would stop by the house when I didn't make it to school. "And she started taking me to the library and everything like that...She took me to my first Disney movie...The Fox and the Hound."  Ms. Peterson's encouragement led Mercedes to aspire to a career drawing for Disney. But ultimately, Mercedes determines that "Some of us just got Kick Me signs tacked to our backs straight outta the womb."

When Kim runs away from Lillian's home there are a number of leads, and people reporting having seen her, including a report of
a girl sleeping in the library. From the description, Hop thought it could have been her, but when he got there whoever it was was gone.
Lillian renovated the family home following her father's death, creating a library where the living room used to be. A place "enveloped in warmth" where "orange flames writhe and rise in the stacked stone fireplace..." the warmth is deceptive to Viola, who would have left the room exactly as it was had it been up to her. She would rather remember the space as it was when he mother hosted Tupperware parties, a memory that
lives in a burst of color: green plastic bowls, pink plastic pitchers, orange plastic cups; gold couch, gold chains, gold charms; Mama's white dress; her lotioned, light brown skin.
I often see libraries in novels representing some kind of promise. It seems that these all do, too, but that the promise remains unfulfilled.