Monday, December 11, 2017

Uncommon Type: Some Stories - by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks' collection of short stories contains seventeen tales, each featuring a typewriter, but only one ("Who's Who") that features a library. 

In the fall of 1978 Sue Gliebe shows up at the New York apartment of an acquaintance (Rebecca) from the Arizona Civic Light Opera (ACLO) looking for a place to stay as she (Sue) makes her way to the Great White Way. Seven weeks later Sue is wearing her welcome thin, which Rebecca's roommate Shelly has made abundantly clear. Sue knows she needs to update her resume but does not have a typewriter. When she asks Shelly about borrowing one Shelly informs her that "they rent them at the library". A rainy trek to the New York Public Library ("the famous building at Forty-Second and Fifth, the landmark building with the stone lions in front") with a busted umbrella ends with the sad discovery that the Main Library was closed on Mondays. 
Just as a roll of thunder outblared the honking horns of traffic, she lost the battle against tears, the collective disappointments simply too much: New York City roommates were not friendly soul sisters; Central Park was a place of naked trees, unusable benches, and spent rubbers; windows had security gates that locked rapists out and victims in; no cute sailors were waiting to meet a girl and get a kiss...and the Public Library was closed on Mondays 
Sue's sobbing is interrupted by the voice of Bob Roy, the gay general business manager of the ACLO who just happens to live in New York City. Just as if in a fairy tale Bob Roy takes her back to his cozy apartment, feeds her, and fixes up her resume himself. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Which just goes to show you that libraries really do change lives, even when they're closed. 


While "Who's Who" is the only story with a library I would be remiss if I failed to give an honorable mention to the story "Welcome to Mars" in which a young surfer, Kirk, remembers his school librarian Mrs. Takimashi (along with some English teachers, and his first crush) as someone who had recognized that he was special. 

My husband and I listened to the audio version of this work, which is read by Hanks. The last story ("Stay With Us"), however, was performed as a radio play along with actors Peter Gerety, Peter Scolari, Cecily Stong, Holland Taylor, and Wilmer Valderrama.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

George & Lizzie - by Nancy Pearl

Even if there had been no libraries in this book, it would still get a post here for being written by the librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl. However, there are, unsurprisingly, dozens of times libraries are mentioned in this work.

James and I took the train into Boston in September to hear Pearl read from her new novel at the Boston Public Library, and bought a signed copy. She was happy to pose with me for this un-selfie (James took it) and specifically inquired "Are you a librarian?" (with a smile) when I asked her if she minded taking her picture with me. 

Blogger with author Nancy Pearl

George & Lizzie is not your typical love story. While tales of opposites attracting (in this case an optimist and a pessimist - George and Lizzie respectively) are not unusual, George and Lizzie have a lot more going on. Lizzie has two big secrets that she's keeping from George, as well as a host of other issues that stem from her unusual childhood - having been raised by her aloof Behavioral Psychologist parents Lydia and Mendel. Lizzie is bemused by George's desire to help her see the world through a lens of hope, but pushes back at every turn.

George's optimism ultimately makes him famous on the public-speaking circuit. 
in George's world there were no tragedies; rained-out picnics, famine in China, lost library books, monsoons in Bali, divorce, children drinking at ten, mainlining heroin at twelve, and dead at fifteen...In his world there were no irretrievable bad choices or wrong turns. Each one was, instead, an Opportunity for Growth...
The next time I hear a student complain about having to pay I fine I will remind them that it is simply an opportunity for growth...

Lizzie is a library user from a young age. She liked the little library at her kindergarten where "Lizzie's whole class went for an hour two mornings every week". Lizzie's parents insisted that Shelia, her babysitter, take her on outings to "ballets, museums, libraries, operas, theaters, and planetariums" rather than places like the Bowlarama. I would suggest that there should be room in a child's life for the Bowlarama and its ilk along with the the more culturally entertaining places. Libraries, of course, are fun, and Shelia helped make them so by checking out books "that she loved when she was Lizzie's age". Shelia also took Lizzie on four-leaf clover hunts. "Lizzie never met anyone who could find four-leaf clovers like Shelia could". This is probably only because she has never met me! My prowess for finding the rare vegetation has led me to deem myself "The World's Greatest Four-Leaf Clover Finder".

Something Lizzie and I have in common is that we were both born on a Wednesday. Lizzie found the poem "Monday's child" in a library book and after reading it understood was why she was "full of woe". I remember reading that poem for the first time, and my father showing my brother, sister and I how to use the perpetual calendar in the phone book to find out what day of the week we were born on. Like Lizzie I was rather displeased with my lot. As Lizzie realizes it would have been better to have been born on a Tuesday or Friday. 

One of Lizzie's favorite library books was Bonny's Boy about a cocker spaniel and "after searching for years, she finally found herself a copy at a book sale run by the Ann Arbor Public Library".

As a high schooler she goes to the library to read up on football in preparation for something she refers to as "The Great Game" - a game which ultimately becomes one of her big secrets. She also read a lot of teen romance novels from the library where she learned about dating, but was also left with a lot of questions about sex.

In college Lizzie uses the UGLI (Undergraduate Library at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor) to study with her boyfriend Jack (who becomes her other secret) and then takes a job there there "shelving books, all of which looked frightfully uninteresting" in an attempt to take her mind off the fact that Jack left for the summer and seemed to have forgotten about her. In fact, he never returns to school. Jack's "ghosting" of Lizzie is what makes her use of the library as an adult so pathetically sad. Although Lizzie tells George she does "nothing much" with her days, the truth is she spends them at the library "trying to find Jack using the public library's collection of telephone books". Traveling with George provides her with opportunities to visit other libraries and look at their phone book collections as well. Of course today Lizzie could probably reconnect with her old flame within seconds by searching for him on Facebook, or Googling him, but George and Lizzie's story takes place in a magical time called the nineties, a time when a public library's phone book collection was well used. I know because I worked in a public library in the 1990s. We would field calls from people all over the country asking if we had a phone book for a certain city, and if so they'd ask us to look up a phone number for them.

James and I read this out loud together. It was a good read aloud for us as we reminisced about the nineties, and laughed out loud. It also had regular breaking points so we were always able to find a stopping point.

A must-read for all librarians.