**spoiler alert** The Strange Library is, appropriately, a strange little story that can be read in one sitting. The scenario—young boy goes to librar**spoiler alert** The Strange Library is, appropriately, a strange little story that can be read in one sitting. The scenario—young boy goes to library, only to find himself taken captive in a basement labyrinth by a brain-eating librarian and attended by a man dressed in a sheep costume who makes killer doughnuts—seems, at first, like it's going for the overhanded metaphor. But then you hit giggle-worthy statements like "I mean, public libraries like this one were always short of money, so building even the tiniest of labyrinths had to be beyond their means" and run into passages like the following:
"Mr. Sheep Man," I asked, "why would that old man want to eat my brains?"
"Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that's why. They're nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time."
"So that's why he wants me to spend a month cramming information in there, to suck it up afterwards?"
"That's the idea."
"Don't you think that's awfully cruel?" I asked. "Speaking from the suckee's point of view, of course."
"But, hey, this kind of thing is going on in libraries everywhere, you know. More or less, that is."
This news staggered me. "In libraries everywhere?" I stammered.
"If all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would be the payoff for them?"
So yes, possibly a tongue-in-cheek poke at public service detractors, but hardly an allegory.
Which means then, that The Strange Library is rather a real story kind of story, a bizarre little tale that simply takes its joy from the expansive possibilities of storytelling and relishes the chance to occasionally drop a super-literary, self-consciously unexpected turn-of-phrase, such as: "Like a blind dolphin, the night of the new moon silently drew near." (Which left me wondering, I might add, if dolphins that are not visually impaired somehow swim louder than their counterparts...)
Of course it should also be mentioned that the illustrations—all of which were sourced from archival materials in the London Library—are splendid. ...more
I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...).I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...). The story is a loving, quasi-Gothic paen to literature, to the act of reading, to librarians and librarianship, to library school, to memory. There are moments when it doesn't totally hang together or sort of veers off a little, which makes me wonder how much of the story the author had planned out ahead of time, and?or whether she was writing it as it was actually being published. Also, I sort of saw where the ending was going and am not totally convinced by how the story wrapped up (it was a bit more despairing than completely made sense to me), but I enjoyed The Night Bookmobile overall.
(But honestly, what librarian wouldn't enjoy a story about one's own personal archive with everything one has ever read traveling around in a mobile home, and which includes the line, "Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian..."? I ask you.)
I've never read one of Niffenegger's novels, so I wonder how the writing here--vocabulary, phrasing, etc.--compares to those longer works. She seems very comfortable in a graphic medium, though: her artwork here is fluid, nicely colored, and very clean. And I'm sure it would be rewarding to examine each page more closely, to check out book titles, etc. Niffenegger's sense of how to divide space and manage the story in each panel is also really great. I appreciated the alternations between full-page illustrations with large blocks of text and pages which were creatively divided into many small boxes or which had a large figure overlapping smaller panels. It made for a dynamic way to tell the story....more
Although it is more a personal memoir than a professionally-oriented one, Avi Steinberg's Running the Books was illuminating for me in its explanationAlthough it is more a personal memoir than a professionally-oriented one, Avi Steinberg's Running the Books was illuminating for me in its explanation of the role and responsibilities of a prison librarian and of the space of the library itself in prison. (To be fair, Steinberg is very up front about the fact that he fell into his career as a prison librarian--"Accidental" is right there in the title and he explains in the first twenty pages or so that he didn't have a degree in library science.)
I found the personal side of the memoir--Steinberg's past in the Orthodox Jewish community of Boston, leaving that community, his relationships with several of the prisoners, and his startling encounters with many ex-inmates (and their families) outside of prison--interesting and often very moving as well, but since my e-rental period from the library has now expired and I don't have the book on hand, I'm going to stick to a few of the more specifically library-related bits that particularly stuck out to me:
*Although the prison library is an important place for prisoners to research legal precedent and build their defenses for retrial or early release, I was especially interested in Steinberg's description of the library as a place of relaxation, community building, and--in the form of the "kites," or handwritten notes that prisoners leave for one another tucked in books and shelves--communication. It reminded me a lot of the way that public libraries tend to be especially successful and useful to patrons now--more as community spaces than as the silent spaces for personal study that they were once.
*Steinberg describes the lengths that he and his fellow librarian went to in order to get materials for their library--not only through donations, but often by trolling yard sales and used bookstores and purchasing items with their own money. This (in conjunction with an NPR interview with the manager of the Maryland prison library system (here: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/29/1367655...) reinforced my resolve to get together a book batch of donations for incarcerated individuals (via Books Through Bars in New York: http://booksthroughbarsnyc.org/).
*The ever-shifting, incredibly nuanced dynamic between Steinberg and the inmates left me thinking a lot about the difficulty of balancing a sense of professional obligation to one's library "patrons" and abiding by protocols that are necessary for security and order in a prison. The passage where he explains the "orientation" session that he attended after a few months working in a library, where the prison employees are shown how everything from a pen to a hardback book to a roll of magazines taped together can become a lethal weapon was especially reflective of this. As Steinberg points out, the whole job of the library is to give inmates things--information, assistance, and yes, books and objects. If you can't engage in that simple transfer without some level of fear or apprehension, then it's very difficult to successfully engage with the people it's your job to help.
*Steinberg also has a great exchange with the other prison librarian about the differences between being a librarian and being an archivist. Since I knew within an hour of my one and only archival class that I was simply not meant to be an archivist at all, I enjoyed this quick aside a lot. I was able to find the passage on a blog, so I'm quoting it here, but apologies if it has any errors:
”I think you’re more an archivist than a librarian,” he said.
He told me that archivists and librarians were opposite personas. True librarians are unsentimental. They’re pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful.
”They like everything,” he said, “gum wrappers as much as books.” He said this with a hint of disdain.
”Librarians like throwing away garbage to make space, but archivists,” he said, “they’re too crazy to throw anything out.”
”You’re right,” I said. ”I’m more of an archivist.”
”And I’m more of a librarian,” he said.
”Can we still be friends?”
Steinberg worked in the prison library for (I think) about two years, and it's clear that during that time--even when under incredible amounts of stress--that he developed a sense of professional ethics and responsibility the dovetail quite closely with those that were instilled in me during library school. It's heartening, I think, that working in a library environment (any library environment) has the potential to bring out similar impulses--developing strong service protocols, finding ways of providing access to information, developing professional/educational programs--in both people who have professional training in librarianship, and people who don't. ...more
In the wake of the staggering success of Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire novels featuring psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, dedicated fans and new readers alike are being (re)introduced to Harris' previous series, including her Aurora Teagarden mysteries. The first in the Teagarden series, Real Murders, introduces Aurora "Roe" Teagarden, a diminutive, bespectacled librarian in the small Georgia town of Lawrenceton. Roe nurtures a fascination with true crime stories—an interest shared by several other town residents—and together, these enthusiasts form the Real Murders club which meets once a month to discuss all manner of murder and mayhem. Among its members, the Real Murders club boasts a Lizzy Borden expert, a massacre and genocide specialist, and a man specifically interested in hate crimes. As Roe is soon to discover, however, Real Murders has also provided an unintended education for a vicious killer who has begun targeting club members using real life murder scenarios as inspiration.
For those readers with a somewhat gruesome sense of fun, this is an appealing premise for a crime novel—a sort of And Then There Were None puzzler in which neither victim nor reader is forced to suffer through much actual violence or emotional trauma. Unfortunately, while it is styled as a Southern cozy, Real Murders struggles from the start to strike a balance between light humor and a grim, almost fetishistic fascination with unsettling violence. Upon discovering the first murder—which abruptly takes place during the first 25 pages—Roe remarks that the victim was "so dead," a statement that could be read as almost funny until the reader finds out that the murdered woman has been savagely bludgeoned, leaving "her head...the wrong shape entirely." And while Roe's initial reaction is as one would expect—disturbed, disgusted, and shocked—she quickly recovers, igniting not one, but two new romantic relationships, and taking part in her own personal investigation even as people closer and closer to her become the targets of the murderer.
Roe—and most of the other characters in Real Murders—are written not as Agatha Christie-esque caricatures, but as actual people. Throughout the course of the novel, we learn a fair amount about Roe and her life: her work at the public library, her non-existent dating life, her ambitious mother who has built an impressive real estate empire. Roe is, in effect, a "real" person. In general, one would praise an author for creating a multi-dimensional character, but in this particular case, Roe's believability dissipates whenever the murder plot comes into play—which, as one might expect, it does frequently. Because even when Roe expresses the horror of what she is experiencing (and it's worth noting that the crimes do, in fact, become increasingly and graphically horrific) she doesn't appear to actually be feeling much of anything. To really be traumatized in the way that someone who has seen a personal acquaintance beheaded, for instance, really should be traumatized.
Writing about classic 'Golden Age' crime fiction, the masterful P.D. James has recognized that our favorite Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers books are "..novels of escape. We are required to feel no real pity for the victim, no empathy for the murderer, no sympathy for the falsely accused." Such also appears to be the case for Real Murders. However, one has to wonder if such novels are not somewhat anachronistic for a contemporary reader, for whom real and graphic violence is a daily part of the morning's papers. Harris would do well to take a page from any number of contemporary crime writers who are able to stage violent crimes with more than a modicum of empathy—P.D. James, Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg, and Patricia Highsmith all come to mind—rather than betraying quite so much glee at the scene of a crime. ...more
I came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. The idea was that we should just reaI came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. The idea was that we should just read something that would give us an idea of the 'tone' of the field--we could read anything that had to do with special collections, rare books, or the antiquarian book trade. Nonfiction, memoir, and...bibliomystery were suggested genres that we could look into when making our selection.
Bibliomystery, you say? Awesome.
A fast-paced and entirely pleasurable read, Booked to Die introduces Clifford Janeway, a hard-nosed, workaholic (ex-boxer) cop, who feels that he missed his real calling as a rare book store owner. Janeway gets the chance to wear the mantle of "Bookman" after the violent death of a luckless bookscout and escalating tensions with a sadistic thug lose our hero his badge.
Dunning (a former bookman himself) keeps its plot moving, while still taking a bit of time to introduce readers to the world of rare books and the people who dedicate their lives to it. With full passages dedicated to explanations of Modern Firsts (including rants on the craze for 1st edition Stephen King and Thomas Harris novels), theories of pricing, AB/Bookman’s Weekly, bookman vocab, and the sad lot of the book scout, Dunning is able to appeal to those familiar with the book world, while possibly creating some converts at the same time.
While Dunning's proficiency with noir tropes--the femme fatale, the cheesey one-liners, the vigilante's search for justice--is great fun, Booked to Die also emphasizes something that my professor has been valiantly trying to emphasize to myself and my classmates for two courses now: the profundity of books themselves as beautiful, valuable, and collectable objects. Janeway spends a great deal of time ogling dust jackets and marginalia (notably a Steinbeck doodle of a man with a huge penis inside Travels with Charley, entitled "Tom Joad on the Road"). One of the novel’s climactic moments culminates with the painful destruction of an 1843 edition of John Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán in its original boards. The novel takes very seriously the idea that there is still something inherently sacred about the tangible object of a book, something that people could potentially be driven to even kill for.
Great fun for all you crime-novel-loving-librarians. (There's even an ex-librarian in the mix: a sexy, whale-saving, Greenpeace-volunteering, isolationist, now-book-dealer librarian.)
Peppered with enough inside jokes about incunabula, Caxton Bibles, librarian mystique and the inner workings of the library card system to make a newbPeppered with enough inside jokes about incunabula, Caxton Bibles, librarian mystique and the inner workings of the library card system to make a newbie librarian student flush with the thrilling sensation of "Hey! I get that immensely dorky joke!", Bookhunter proves that along with being astonishingly sexy guardians of human knowledge, librarians are also total badasses. Shiga's artwork leaves a little to be desired--a number of panels don't flow that well and the action gets a bit confused as a result--but any graphic novel that includes library police staking out amateur civilian censors, jumping out of bookmobile windows during high-speed chases, jumping off of rooftops, wielding shotguns, and thwarting a would-be book thief by smushing him in between movable rows of card catalogs has my eternal support. ...more
"Jenson, one of the greatest type-designers of all time, cut his roman fount for the printing of a Roman text, Cicero's Epistolae ad Brutum (1470)...W"Jenson, one of the greatest type-designers of all time, cut his roman fount for the printing of a Roman text, Cicero's Epistolae ad Brutum (1470)...We may no longer share the exaggerated enthusiasm of William Morris, who maintained that 'Jenson carried the development of roman type as far as it can go,' but the strength and nobility of this first true roman at once set the highest standard for every subsequent roman face."...more