did not finish: The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (audio)

borrowerI made it exactly 25 pages into this one (although via audio, which was about 30 minutes, give or take). I remember hearing about The Borrower ever since it came out in 2011, and it sounded real cute: children’s librarian befriends sweet little boy who might be gay and whose censorious, bigoted, ultra-religious parents are a drag; she ends up either liberating or kidnapping him, depending on your angle, and they have adventures together. Nice story, right? In fact, it opens with a story time reading of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which drives home the fact that this plot has been done before. And that’s no complaint or criticism. As Makkai notes in the voice of her narrator, “you can always count on a librarian for a derivative prose style.” I can dig that little joke (and also fear it is too true).

But things went south quickly after that. Faced with the censorious mother, Lucy (the librarian/narrator) rails that she would never “defy the Constitution” by refusing to check out certain books to a ten-year-old boy at his mother’s request. Now, I sympathize with Lucy’s gut reaction and not with the nasty mother; but I think it’s only respectful to be clear on what the Constitution actually says. The First Amendment protects the right to speech, press and assembly; it most certainly does not protect the right to read anything one likes (unfortunately), and the rights of minors have been curtailed in our courts in favor of their parents’ right to decide for them, with abundant clarity. This use of the “defy the Constitution” argument was outrageous and left me reeling. From a librarian, no less!

Next Lucy notes that

I wasn’t at all concerned about (the boss) enforcing this, or even remembering it a month later. And if she tried to fire me because I’d checked out a book to a patron of the public library, I’d have so much free legal representation within ten minutes that her gin-soaked head would spin.

Well, that’s bold – and naive. If this librarian were fired for checking out a book to a ten-year-old that the child’s mother had expressing forbidden her to check out to him, I think her legal case would be in some doubt; and while it’s conceivable that the ACLU or a similar organization would take the case on, I wouldn’t bet my job on it. I’d put the chances pretty low, in fact. To think that every unjustly-fired, underpaid city employee gets “so much free legal representation within ten minutes” to make heads spin is… idealistic, at best.

And then Lucy snobs out on her profession of librarianship, except oops, it might not be fair to call her a professional because she’s non-degreed and thus in most work environments ineligible to be called a “librarian” at all (this is a subject on which there is some controversy within the field and I don’t want to enter into that now, but I think it does bear on the credibility of this novel): in reference to the cardigan she’s wearing,

I hated that I’d started to look like a librarian. This wasn’t right. In college, I’d smoked things. My first car had angry bumper stickers. I came from a long line of revolutionaries.

Now this made my head spin. Librarians are about as diverse as any other demographic group you’d care to examine, and certainly there are those cardigan-clad shh-ing grannies with buns; but there is also no dearth of tattooed, funny-looking, hipster, punk, revolutionary-as-hell librarians. And you know what? Some of us wear cardigans, too. Despite the disappointingly cartoonish view of librarians represented by these lines, they also made me wonder if Makkai realizes who her audience is for this book: I am assuming that at least in part those attracted by her basic plot would be librarians (I am one), and she just alienated us with her snobby narrator.

So. This review threatens to be as long as the tiny piece of this book that I read; I should stop. I think I’ve effectively communicated that I was disgusted by the 25 pages’ worth that I listened to, and very comfortable turning away towards greener pastures. In fact, I’m now starting a novel by Joe Hill, whose librarian character in NOS4A2 was possibly a little bit of a cariciature in the other direction – with her purple hair and all – but also closer to the librarians I know. So there.

I am not assigning this a number rating after such a brief read but clearly if I did, it would be a low number of my grumbles.

hemingWay of the Day: as an archivist

Oh my word, Liz does it again. Never was there an article more designed to make me sigh and daydream. From PRI’s The World comes

This came to me from Liz, who got it in turn from Jessamyn West (blogtwitter). A solid pedigree right there. I swoon; this is my dream job.

What The World’s Strongest Librarian is Reading

Following up on my review of Josh Hanagarne’s new book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, and my interview of the man himself: this section didn’t get printed in Shelf Awareness but I thought my readers might be interested. I certainly was! For one thing, The Black Count is on my list.

So, from our interview conversation: What the World’ Strongest Librarian is Reading.

Josh says, “I read a book almost every day. Because I can’t sleep. It’s really hard for me to go to sleep with the tics, so that’s one of the silver linings, that I get to read so much. I shouldn’t say I read a book every day, but I finish a book almost every day. I read everything from juvenile books to big giant books that I’ll finish after eight days of reading.”

What good books have you read lately?

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney. It has never been this fun to be cynical. Kenney was an insider in advertising and copyrighting in New York, and it is just the most brutal look at the superficial world of advertising, and the storytelling – I really want everybody to go read it.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is about Alexander Dumas’ father, who was the basis for The Count of Monte Cristo. He was a black man during the Napoleonic campaigns, and he rose to great power in a time when the world and the military were definitely ruled by whites. He winds up being imprisoned for something like 20 years, and the whole time he’s in prison his jailer is trying to poison him. Then it turns into this incredible story, if anything more swashbuckling and gigantic than The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s a crash course in the Napoleonic campaigns that doesn’t feel like a history book. It’s just a wonderful book, the wildest adventure story.

I have been rereading Mark Twain, which I always am.

I just read a University Press book, Conversations with David Foster Wallace, that was quite good. Very theory-intensive, which I don’t enjoy so much anymore, but really good since I’m a fan of Wallace’s.

I just read The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr again.

And, The Twits by Roald Dahl. I just read that with Max. Max is finally old enough to want Roald Dahl. And that has made me happier than anything.”

See more of Josh’s book reviews and related and unrelated writings at his blog, The World’s Strongest Librarian.

Maximum Shelf author interview: Josh Hanagarne

Following yesterday’s review of Josh Hanagarne’s new book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, here’s my interview with the man himself.

Josh Hanagarne: The World’s Strongest Librarian Writes

Josh Hanagarne is from Moab, Utah, and lives with his wife, Janette, and son, Max, in Salt Lake City, where he works at the beautiful main branch of the SLC Public Library. His memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian, touches on the bizarrely various pieces of his life: his struggles with Tourette Syndrome; his journey to becoming a husband and a father; his love affair with books and libraries that would eventually lead to a career; an obsession with the gym that became a penchant for tearing phone books and full decks of cards; and a less-than-smooth lifelong relationship with the Mormon Church, where he still finds family and friends but less faith than he once held.


Your book includes a lot of personal and painful history that belongs not only to you but to your wife and family as well. What was the process for sharing those personal details?

It was hard. During the first draft I didn’t think too much about how people were going to react. When I started going through on the second draft, I started showing things to Janette or to my mom and asking, is this accurate? Is this something you’re okay with having in here? Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. Whenever anybody was mildly uncomfortable with something, I just took it out–nothing of real consequence. I guess when you write a memoir, you choose which periods of your life you’re going to represent, and then you choose which episodes best represent those periods. If you’re a normal person, sometimes that means you’ll look good and sometimes it means you’ll look bad. So that wasn’t fun, but it was honest, I think, without being tedious and self-flagellating.

I’ve always used humor kind of in self-defense, because I knew if I could make people laugh I could make them focus on something other than my tics. I think this book is kind of sad, and I think a lot of humor is rooted in something sad. I believe Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain both talked towards the ends of their lives about having various forms of irony fatigue, because humor was mainly a self-defensive tool for them. I think in any book where you get to pick and choose what you put in, the sadder stuff’s going to get sadder, and the funny stuff’s probably going to get funnier.

You’ve included Dewey classification numbers under each chapter heading. Do you think this resonates with the general population, or mostly just librarians?

I don’t know. I think most people, even if they don’t get it, will probably be intrigued. Some people have pointed out that they don’t all work out exactly the way capital-“L” Librarians think they should, to which I will just say, the numbers do exactly what I want them to do. I think it’s eye-catching. I didn’t necessarily think of it as being gimmicky, because it really does tie in thematically with each chapter. What I really like about it is that you can kind of see what’s coming and yet sometimes not have any clue how one thing will lead to the next.

Tell us about the process of writing this book: When did you write? Were you still working at the library?

This is probably going to disappoint a lot of aspiring writers who put off writing until they have hours of free time every day, but I don’t think I ever sat down and wrote for more than 15 minutes at a time. I just can’t; the tics won’t let me. I wrote whenever I could. I’d guess I rarely wrote more than half an hour total in a day. I do write really fast. I found out that, at least now, I’m the sort of writer who has to make a gigantic mess and then clean it up, because if I start trying to anticipate all the editorial questions on the fly, I just freeze up and I don’t get anything done. So I wrote a lot more to get to this book than I probably could have, if I were another writer. I wrote the first draft totally on my own and then I sent it to my editor, and things had just been going so well that I kind of assumed, yeah, my first draft is surely anyone else’s fourth or fifth. Then my editor sent it back and said, you’ve got to get rid of 120 pages. We can’t even talk yet. Fix this. Which was a great lesson to learn, and not an easy one. But editing was really kind of fun, because Megan [Newman] is really the right editor for me. I think it took three total drafts between us, but about eight on my part. I learned that it takes a hideous amount of work to appear spontaneous. But it was a lot of fun. The shortest way to answer your question is: I wrote every day, I only wrote for a few minutes at a time, and I just kept going. A big part of it is being willing to show up.

Was the writing process cathartic for you?

If this book hadn’t come about, I think I’d probably still be going through the motions in church, trying not to make waves. The ideas I’ve gotten from church have everything to do with my relationship to my body, and the explanations I thought I owed for my life. In writing the book, I realized, I’m actually going to have to deal with this. So I got into the sticky situation of writing a book about how much I love my family and yet gently distancing myself from the church, knowing that that would be painful for my family. That was the biggest catharsis: realizing that I was going to have to deal with that shift in faith. Spending so much time thinking about that, and trying to word it correctly, is what taught me what I actually do think about it all.

Would you say that you had a message or even a cause to communicate with this book, related to Tourette’s, or libraries, or anything else?

I’m not much of a crusader. But when I go speak to groups of people with disabilities, or their parents, or special educators, the reaction I get is so humbling and overwhelming. If people I speak to are actually getting out of this story what they tell me they are, I knew I really needed to do this book as well as I can. So that it can go be me in all the places I can’t be. There’s definitely no downside to spreading the word about Tourette’s. This story seems to inspire some people without me ever needing to claim I can inspire anyone. As far as libraries, obviously this whole book is my love letter to books and libraries. That’s not necessarily what I intended, but for me to write about myself honestly, that’s the only thing that could have happened.

What do you most want people to know about you that’s not in your book?

To entertain my son occasionally in the morning when I put my pants on, I will hold them up at about waist height and I will try to jump into my pants. So I jump all the way up in the air and tuck my knees in and if I do it right, my feet come through the pants and I’m dressed. And if it goes wrong it goes really badly wrong. And about one of every 10 times I can put my pants on this way. Once in a while. You know, one out of 10 might be optimistic.

This interview originally ran on April 9, 2013 as a Shelf Awareness special issue. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Maximum Shelf: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Maximum Shelf is the weekly Shelf Awareness feature focusing on an upcoming title we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere. The features are written by our editors and reviewers and the publisher has helped support the issue.

My editor recently asked me if I’d like to put together my first Maximum Shelf for them, and said she had just the book in mind for me: The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, by Josh Hanagarne. (My father found this a hilarious expression of what my editor thinks of me. I’ll let you work that one out. I haven’t.) I was thrilled; and I loved the book. Because this would make for an extra long blog post, I’ve split the Max Shelf issue into two posts for you, so please enjoy my review today and my interview with the gracious & funny Josh tomorrow.


Josh Hanagarne, blogger at The World’s Strongest Librarian, “might be the only person whose first three-hundred-pound bench press was accompanied by the Recorded Books production of Don Quixote.” This is just one of his remarkable singularities. A gentle giant who tears phone books for fun, at 6’7″ he tends to catch the eye at the Salt Lake City Public Library, even when his Tourette Syndrome is not acting up. His memoir explores these contradictions and oddities, and his remarkable journey from idyllic childhood to painfully jerky young adulthood to a contented family and work life.

Hanagarne had a happy childhood, beloved by his mother, an incorrigible prankster and devout Mormon, and his devoted, irreverent bear of a father. He grew up in libraries, a passionate bookworm disturbed only by the tics that began in first grade but would go undiagnosed until high school (although his father suspected Tourette’s from the beginning). By young adulthood, they were not only embarrassing but violent and debilitating. He would eventually suffer a hernia from the force of his involuntary shouting tics, and his larger movements resulted in injury to himself and chaos in his immediate surroundings. After high school he spent years trying numerous cures, in and out of college, working various jobs and struggling with depression. Lifting weights at the gym stilled the tics somewhat, and for a while he got regular Botox injections in his vocal cords to quiet the shouts and whoops. During that time he met and married a lovely Mormon folklorist named Janette. For the first eight months of marriage, he couldn’t speak to her above a whisper.

Although deeply in love, the atmosphere of Josh and Janette’s story early in their marriage remains clouded. For years they try to get pregnant. Janette suffers two miscarriages and they are harshly rejected by the Mormon Church as adoptive parents. Josh continues to tussle with Tourette’s. For a short time, he finds a position as assistant special educator quite satisfying, not least because his tics become unremarkable in a room full of special needs. But he soon leaves that job, because he seeks challenge: crucially, he aspires to overcome Tourette’s, to beat his tics into submission. Pondering what might present the greatest challenge to a man who can’t keep quiet, Josh is drawn to the quietest place he knows, a place that has always offered succor and delight. He gets a job as a clerk in the library and begins a master’s program in library science. And a key piece of marital bliss is finally achieved when Janette delivers a healthy baby boy named Max.

Josh continues to battle Tourette’s in the gym, discovers kettlebell lifting along the way, and makes a new friend in Adam Glass, a former Air Force tech sergeant and strongman: he bends wrenches and horseshoes and tears decks of cards and phone books. Josh’s story takes an inspiring turn as the twitchy librarian and the foul-mouthed strongman gradually develop a friendship; as Adam helps Josh build strength, together they also begin to understand and subdue the tics. He finds Adam a little strange, and the explanation for his social awkwardness is also what makes him the perfect mentor for overcoming Tourette’s: Adam is autistic.

The adult Josh Hanagarne who relates his story is content and stable, happily married, thrilled to be a father to four-year-old Max, and working full-time at the Salt Lake City Public Library. As he relates his stranger-than-fiction story, he intersperses present-day anecdotes from a workplace that he wryly notes is rife with strange and occasionally smelly patrons and events. He muses eloquently and powerfully about the role of libraries in society, and their future possibilities. Throughout his life and this book, Josh struggles with his Mormon faith, as he sets off on the expected mission and faces myriad challenges in school, work, marriage and parenthood. In telling a story about family, church and Tourette Syndrome, he always circles back to libraries and to books, in many charming literary references. And always central to Josh’s story is his love of family. From his loving parents and exceptionally close siblings through the clear delight Josh finds in marriage and fatherhood, he stresses the inestimable gift of a loving family.

Josh’s memoir is thoughtful, heartfelt, often hilarious– and unsparingly honest. He is not proud of every moment in his own past, but he shares nonetheless. The image of the man today who wrote this book and who works in a large branch of a public library in a large city is that of a serious yet funny, mature, loving family man, and this image is only partly at odds with the earlier, less secure young man we come to know in these pages. The younger Josh was unsure and unstable, and the author is more comfortable in his own skin. But both have tics, and stories to tell.

This review originally ran on April 9, 2013 as a Shelf Awareness special issue. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 9 minutes of calm.

Tomorrow: I interview The World’s Strongest Librarian.

book beginnings on Friday: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.


I have discovered a strange and wonderful new book: a memoir by a Mormon strongman librarian with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly. It was like working inside a giant pair of glass underpants without any leg holes to escape through. The building moved. It breathed. It seethed with bodies and thoughts moving in and out of people’s heads. Mostly out.

To me, this beginning establishes the author’s voice, which will be evocative as well as irreverent. One of Hanagarne’s strengths is that he communicates often serious content with a wry twist that sometimes had me giggle out loud. Aside from which, the opening setting of this book is a library, and I am a sucker for that, as I bet are some of you.

I’m sorry to tell you that this book won’t be out until May! But be sure to look out for it then.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

I don’t regret the books I’ve read, but those I did not read

I work in a library that focuses mostly on fiction, mostly on bestsellers, and mostly on recent releases. Recently released bestselling fiction is the big hit, although we certainly carry exceptions to each category, too. I get asked a lot about books. I get asked for advice on what a patron should read – this is the most common and the most natural and appropriate; I’ve taken courses and read books about “reader’s advisory” service, which means advising what books a person might enjoy, based on what they’ve enjoyed (or not) in the past. (I still consider myself woefully inadequate, mostly because we can’t read them all! But I try – and I’m familiar with what’s expected, with what reader’s advisory entails, even when I can’t perform.) Almost as frequently, I get asked about what I am reading, what I like to read, what I’ve read recently. This can be a tricky one. It should be easy – I should be able to answer honestly, and that should often lead to a fun, stimulating conversation, even if our reading tastes differ. (Which is fine! I like to say, how boring would it be if we all liked the same things? And how long the lines would be, too!) But sometimes I get some strange questions or strange responses. Today, when asked what the last book I read was, I answered truthfully: The Taming of the Shrew. I was rewarded with deep, uncontrollable belly laughter as the patron stumbled out wiping his eyes. I don’t entirely understand. Carry on, sir.

I also get asked difficult questions, like, “which Christian fiction author do you like to read?” The truthful answer is none; the diplomatic answer is “Jan Karon and Karen Kingsbury are very popular. What are you looking for? Who have you enjoyed in the past?” It always makes me smile bemusedly when people ask me, “do you read?” (I’m sure there is a librarian out there who doesn’t, but really.) Or another favorite, when a big batch of hot-off-the-presses, brand-new books arrive: “have you read all of these?” To which I reply, “no. I put them out for you all, first.” But sometimes I can’t resist grabbing a brand new one, I confess. The Reversal and The Paris Wife both came straight home with me, for example. And sometimes I get to read a gally before publication, as I did with Chevy Stevens’ Never Knowing (review yet to come, via Shelf Awareness). But mostly, my access to our library’s new books is limited in the same way my patrons’ access is: by availability. Also, I’m very busy, have lots of reading to do, and try to prioritize their access more highly than my own.

I do get excited about a lot of the books that I buy for the library. And I do get to read a lot of them, but I miss more than I hit. By how many? Well, I got curious. Out of 2011 book orders to date, I have read (in no particular order):

**Some of these were among the best I’ve read this year, too.

But on the other hand, I wanted to read:

  • Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante
  • Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, David Ansell
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovitch
  • The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, Daniel J. Sharfstein
  • The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America, Julie Winch
  • The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
  • Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
  • The Butterfly’s Daughter, Mary Alice Monroe
  • Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran
  • I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle
  • Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, David S. Reynolds
  • Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress
  • One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde
  • Mr. Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt
  • Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas
  • Cleaning Nabokov’s House, Leslie Daniels
  • Crime: Stories, Ferdinand von Schirach

…that’s a lot of books. I may still make it to several of these – I have my heart set on County, for example. (I want to continue my reading of history and historical fiction in Chicago and the northeast, as in The Devil in the White City, Newspaper Titan, Around the World on Two Wheels and Clara and Mr. Tiffany.) But others will just fall off my wish list gradually for lack of attention – or move up it, if someone else raves. This is the joyful problem of the avid reader and professional librarian: so many options, so little time.

I know I’m not alone! What has passed you by this year that you’re still hoping to find time for? Or, what DID you find time for that turned out really, really well? Best of 2011? (We’re talking published in 2011 here for now. My best of 2011 [published in] are those asterisked, above.) Anything really terrible? (I found Gone with a Handsomer Man very disappointing.) Please do share. Tell me I’m not alone. :)

Dewey vs. the card catalog

I just need to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to clear up what appears to be a common misconception.

I have this shirt.

Pretty rad, right? It totally draws conversation, and has resulted in me meeting a few very cool fellow librarians when out on the town, too. (Hi, Rob & Shannon!) But it also tends to expose people’s misunderstandings about what’s pictured there.

The picture in that image above is of a card catalog, y’all. It’s a card filing system, and it contains (or contained) cards, on which were printed information about items in a library’s collection. The joke on the t-shirt – “never forget” – is a reference to the fact that card catalogs are pretty much dead. Gone. We now have electronic catalogs that have the same library function: to find what books we have by title, author, and more bibliographic attributes, as well as by subject. Card catalogs. Gone.

But I keep hearing people mention Dewey when they see this shirt. There is no Dewey on this shirt, folks. Let me help.

The Dewey decimal system is a classification system, meaning a way of classifying books (or other items) by subject, and coding subjects, in this case, by a series of numbers. We group books together by subject, so that if you find the one book you want, you can find a bunch of other similar books parked next to it on the shelf. In this way, 796.63 stands for “Mountain biking (All-terrain cycling).” 636.76 stands for toy dogs, including the chihuahua. This classification system does not need cards, or a card catalog. It is alive and well in many libraries today, including the one I work in. We use an electronic catalog, not a card catalog, but Dewey, all the same. My books on true crime [homicide] sit happily together at 364.152. Right now. Dewey. Not Gone.

See the difference?

If your eyes aren’t glazed over yet, I’ll tell you that when I couldn’t find a print copy anywhere of Irrepressible Reformer: a biography of Melvil Dewey, I started reading it through Google Books. (This book’s Dewey number, by the way, is 020.92. You’re welcome.) I didn’t get to finish, because Google Books offers only a preview, which turned out to be something like 100 pages, if memory serves. But I read enough to tell you that Dewey, creator of the system, was a fascinating character. He was a reformer and an innovator of a number of systems, not only classification of books but library practices generally, the metric system, spelling, higher education, and library schools. He’s also a pretty controversial figure, having used very questionable business practices and even in the most generous of light, taken advantage of his benefactors. (For example, he set up various organizations and bureaus in pursuit of his various causes, but they all shared one money pool, so that donors to one cause often ended up funding an entirely different one.) As part of his crusade for simplified spellings (thru for through, etc.), he changed his name from Melville Louis Dewey to Melvil Dui. That Melvil was an interesting guy.

All right, hope you’re still with me. Let’s review. Card catalog:

A physical thing. Large. Heavy. Cumbersome. Mostly dead and gone. [Also, I want to own one of these very badly.]


A system of categorizing and organizing books. The catalog that leads a person to a book using Dewey can be electronic, and today, almost certainly is. Not dead and gone. [Although if you tempt me I may tell you about the Library of Congress's alternative classification system...]

BTT asks, own or borrow?

As usual, I’m late on this one, but the real point, seems to me, is the discussion, not the timing of the discussion. Sometimes I need to let these topics ruminate for a day or days before my own feelings become either articulated in my head, or strong enough to warrant a blog post.

Booking Through Thursday asked, on June 9:

All things being equal (money, space, etc), would you rather own copies of the books you read? Or borrow them?

My response in this case has been shaped and strengthened through reading lots of other responses, so thanks, fellow bloggers. Special thanks to A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook for the mention of supporting his local library!

So. What’s my answer? Like some of these other discerning bloggers, it’s not a simple either/or. Of course, as a librarian, an insatiable reader, and a book lover, I have a collecting problem. It’s too easy to pick up a book I know I want to read someday, but have no time to read now, and put it on a bookshelf or in a stack at home; then I turn around and find that the towering stacks are threatening to eat Husband, little dogs and I for lunch. (Part of the problem is that my job sends numerous homeless books my way.) This would seem to indicate a preference for owning.

But! When given the opportunity to think it through and give a reasoned answer, as here :), I would not always choose to own. For one thing, there are too many good books in the world to ever read, or own, or house, them all. (This is both a good thing and a bad thing.) I know the question presupposes endless storage space, but there has to be a limit. I don’t ever want to live in a space the size of the Library of Congress times 10,000 or whatever it would take. I think the “etc.” in the question (unlimited “money, space, etc.”) is ability to choose! Or maybe time to read! I feel that books are meant to be shared, and passed on. Now, don’t get me wrong; there are many books in my collection, and in my future or dream collection, that I wouldn’t part with. That copy of The Jungle (etc.) that belonged to my parents; the beautifully bound; the unique early editions. My favorite books, especially those with a high chance of being reread or quoted from, I would always want to own a copy of. But I also enjoy passing books on. Recommending a book to a friend is one thing; putting a physical copy in his/her hands is another. (That’s one reason why it’s fun to meet up with Amy or Fil for dinner or drinks: the prospect of physically handing over books.)

Also, as a librarian, part of my life’s work seems to be providing other people with reading material. I work in a library that runs a paperback collection off donations; I’m always happy to put books into this collection, and really, a “light read” of genre fiction may as well go back into circulation as languish on my shelf never to be reread. Also as a librarian, I’m hyper-aware and extremely appreciative of the prospect of a free and unlimited supply of books to read. Even with all the money in the world, I wouldn’t buy every book I’m interested in reading; if it turns out to be a dud (and some do!), I don’t want it living with me afterwards! But with all the money in the world, I would be likely to buy some of the best books I’ve read from the library that turn out to be excellent. (Most recently, that would be Fire Season and The Heroine’s Bookshelf.)

So I guess what I’m saying, to question of buying vs. borrowing is… both, of course! Moderation in all things (thank you Aristotle), and a place for everything and everything in its place (variously attributed). Some I want to own, but most I think I would borrow, even with all the money and storage space in the world. What I most need is not money or storage space, because we have these wonderful libraries everywhere! (Support your local libraries, friends!) What I most need (besides more storage space, certainly) is more time to read. And some really beautiful, well-crafted bookshelves.

new books. help me decide?

Just like I did a few weeks ago, I’m sharing with you some new books that have just come in here at the library. I’m actually interested in several of these that are well outside my usual areas of interest; don’t know what that’s about.

My library shelf note: “Luz puts off the trip that Abuela wants to make until it’s too late, and ends up making the trip alone, back south to meet her aunt and learn a family secret: what happened to her mother. A coming-of-age story with a Mexican twist.” I think it’s the Mexican twist that draws me to this one.

My library shelf note: “Gwyneth’s sophisticated and beautiful cousin Charlotte has been the one preparing her entire life for time travel; but by some accident, Gwyneth is the one suddenly reeling in time. She must work with Gideon, another time traveler, to solve the mystery of her heritage as they spin through different eras.” Really a YA book, but something interests me here.

My library shelf note: “In this delightful southern romp, Teeny thinks she’s on the right track: about to be married and getting her pastry career back on track. Then her fiancé cheats and slaps a restraining order on her before turning up dead. Now she must turn to her lawyer ex-boyfriend for help.” The southern angle appeals to me, although I think it’s a “cozy” mystery, which is not normally my first choice.

My library shelf note: “Sexy vampires, studly college men, and the local crime boss come to heads in Atlanta, Georgia in this wise, funny urban romp.” I have a number of patrons interested in African-American or “urban” fiction, and I should really read in this genre just to be a little more familiar.

The Butterfly’s Daughter is supposed to be literary fiction, which is fairly standard for me; but the other three combine romance, time travel, and vampires – not areas I read in much or at all! I don’t know what’s come over me, but these books are appealing to me, maybe because of the variety they offer. (That, and my endless quest to stay up to date on what my patrons are reading.)

Am I crazy? Do any of these books appeal to you? What should I pick up first?


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