Thursday, May 31, 2018

Twelve Angry Librarians - by Miranda James

Baltimore County Public Library's #BWellRead 2018 Challenge for the month of May is to read a book recommended by a friend. My friend Fran recommended this one to me. And in a first for this blog it is a mystery novel! Honestly, friends are always recommending library-mystery books to me. The thing is, I have never liked mystery novels. Not even when I was a pre-teen was I even interested in Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys. I wanted to like them, all my friends did, and my big sister did, but I just could never get past how the characters in these series could get themselves into hot water so often. It's not like they are looking for trouble, but they always seemed to get tangled up into some sort of caper whether they wanted to or not.  

And so it is with Charlie Harris, interim director of the Athena College Library and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel. In this book the sleuths (human and feline) have the help of the librarians who are attending the Southern Library Association Convention to solve the mystery of who poisoned Gavin Fong, Charlie's library school nemesis. Lots of librarians in this one, and quite a bit of critical thinking, too.

I haven't been converted into a mystery lover, although I did find this to be a page-turner. I do, however, promise to read another library-mystery this time next year. It turns out that May is Mystery month!

The Hundred-Year House - by Rebecca Makkai

I picked this book up at the Millicent Library earlier this month just browsing the shelves looking for a fun book to read during a long-weekend trip to NYC. This story is divided into three parts moving backward in time from 1999 to 1929 to 1900. The story of the haunted house (Laurelfield) and its occupants, is pieced together through its history as an artist colony, a compromising photograph, and mysterious files locked in the attic. 

There is heavy use of libraries by the characters in the first (most recent) part of the novel. In each successive part, as the story moves back through the century, they become less frequent. In the final section the only library mentioned in the one located at the estate. This is in steep contrast to the regular employment of all different kinds of libraries (public, school, academic, and archives) for a variety of uses by the characters who would live in the house 99 years later. 

Doug, a would-be academic (and son-in-law to Gracie, the owner of the house) is working on his dissertation about Edwin Parfitt (a poet who once stayed at the artist colony). Doug makes good use of his public library but is not always necessarily working on his dissertation. What his wife, Zee, doesn't know is that he is writing a book called Melissa Calls the Shots (no. 118 in the Friends for Life fiction series for pre-teen girls). Something else Zee doesn't know is that he had once used inter-library loan to request a book about her infamous family when he and Zee first became engaged. Zee had similarly done research on her own family at her boarding school library some years before.

I thought I might have a first for this blog, with a character who used inter-library loan, but it turns out that honor goes to one of my very early posts - 52 Loaves which I read in 2011. This is the first one since then, however. 

Doug is without a doubt the heaviest library user. Although it is one of his housemates, Miriam, who finds some dirt on the ghost of Laurelfield by reading her obituary on microfiche at the public library.

The first section of the book ends with a bonfire, built to "burn some bad art". Doug throws in three books from the Friends for Life series. Let me make one thing perfectly clear here - it is never okay to burn books, even crappy ones.

Friday, May 18, 2018

You Think It, I'll Say It stories - by Curtis Sittenfeld

One thing I've learned about listening to audio books is that if I expect that I might want to blog about the book I should download the Kindle version, if available, in addition to the Audible edition. This provides me with (searchable) text version in which I can go back and find references to libraries after I'm done listening.

Sittenfeld's stories create a witty yet biting look at suburbia - each with its own surprises. The author shows us that beyond the superficial existences we observe, multi-faceted individuals live. Characters who are portrayed as one-dimensional are given depth once we see them from other angles. And some even use the library.

In "Vox Clamantis in Deserto" the undergraduate narrator at Dartmouth College's is a user of the Baker-Berry Library

Kirsten, a former close acquaintance of Lucy Headrick (a.k.a. "The Prairie Wife") is anxious to read Headrick's new memoir. She decides it is worth buying when she discovers that there are over 300 people ahead of her on her local library's waiting list also desperate to read what the "lifestyle" guru, with over 3.1 million Twitter followers, has to say.

Good stories of imperfect, flawed individuals. This was fun listening.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How to Be a Muslim: An American Story - by Haroon Moghul

Baltimore County Public Library's April 2018 #BWellRead Challenge category was to "a memoir/biography about a person who doesn't look like you". Of course, as my husband pointed out, this could mean anyone who is not my sister, but I took it in the spirit of the challenge and selected Moghul's story. A Pakistani Muslim who grew up in New England, Moghul was born with a myriad of health problems, which relegated him to being one of the "geeky" kids growing up. And where there are geeks there are libraries.

Early in the work Moghul describes the very well-educated family into which he was born - one that
appreciated, encouraged, and rewarded bookishness - which made life easier, since [he] was the kid who made a beeline for the library when the last bell rang.
It is a good thing he was so comfortable in the library as it is a place with which he would became quite familiar. As the only kid whose parents wouldn't sign his permission slip to take sex ed the  "doofy twelve-year-old" was dispatched to the school library while the rest of the kids in his class received their illicit lessons. He became so well-known in his library he described it as a place where "everyone fist-bumped him". As an adult he also made good use of a "well funded public library systen" while waiting for his bookish mother to give lessons on Islam to "housewives".

As an about-to-graduate student of New York University (shortly post 9/11) Moghul proposes that the University hire a Muslim chaplin (himself) to "a senior university official, a woman whose stunning workspace occupied the rarefied top floor of NYU's library". It is here that he learns that "there were levels of power and influence that [he] hadn't the slightest idea of." It has always seemed more than a bit ironic to me that University officials are so quick to recognize the value of library space only when they want to claim it for other-than-library needs.

I learned quite a bit about Islam from this work. I have enjoyed reading several religious memoirs of late. You can see my other posts here, here, here, and here.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Abortion: an historical romance 1966 - by Richard Brautigan

Earlier this year I posted a link to a list of 100 Must-Read Books about Libraries and Bookstores which included Brautigan's The Abortion. When I discovered that the Brautigan Library of Unpublished Manuscripts is a real place, and featured in Atlas Obscura I immediately requested the book from Inter-library loan. It is a rather quick read, and as the title suggests, it is a love story. The unnamed narrator is the librarian at this unusual library where people can drop off their unpublished works at any time of the day or night. The
library came into being because of an overwhelming need and desire for such a place. There just had to be a library like this. The desire brought into existence this library building which isn't very large...
The narrator lives in the library and never leaves the building, as he must always stay at his post in case someone rings the bell requesting a drop off. Authors and their books are listed in the Library Contents Ledger, and then authors are invited to place their book on any shelf they "fancy".
It doesn't matter where the book is placed because nobody ever checks them out and nobody ever comes here to read them. 
The narrator is not without company. His girlfriend, Vida, often stays with him at night. It is through this arrangement that Vida finds herself pregnant and begins to make plans for an abortion in Mexico, and the narrator prepares to leave the library for the first time since he took the job several years before in order to accompany her. He must find someone to watch the library, get several hundred dollars, make travel plans to fly to the border, make a hotel reservation, make a doctor's appointment, and return plans. All of which he does rather easily with the help of Foster, who had once made similar arrangements for a lady friend.

I have to admit that I was a bit jealous of the librarian in the story, who as Vida jokes, lives a hermit's life. Those who know me well know that I someday aspire to become a hermit. It seems that our narrator has the best of several worlds. He gets to be a hermit, and be a librarian, and have company when he wants. He does, however, return to the library after his excursion with Vida to an unexpected surprise.

A surreal read.