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 he 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.