I’ve been struck lately at the popularity of the library as a setting for books. Novels, memoirs – the library seems like the latest hot trend in popular writing. And why not? Libraries – especially public ones – are the places where everyone and anyone can meet. With all those people from all walks of life interacting in a single place – there is sure to be much worth recounting.
Thoughtful, funny — here are a few that came across the check in desk at our library.
The Incident Report by Martha Baillie. In many libraries, when something goes awry, an incident report is filled out to keep track of what happened and to make sure that things are followed up on. Baillie’s novel takes this library document and turns it into a novel. Over 140 short chapters – 140 incidents – Baillie tells the story of Miriam, and employee of the Toronto Public Library: her encounters both personal and professional and the things both small and profound that happen to her. It’s a charming, thoughtful story. Our own blogger Maureen profiled this book earlier, read more about it here.
The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton. While Baillie tells us a story of libraries in our own back yard, Hamilton takes us around the world with her main character Fiona Sweeney, a librarian who travels to a remote corner of Africa to work on a bookmobile service. Fiona’s intent is to bring books and literature to those who don’t normally have access, but her actions have ramifications beyond what she anticipated in a novel that ultimately examines issues of literacy and conflicting cultural values.
Marilyn Johnson is the author of a nonfiction title currently getting a lot of buzz. Johnson used to write obituaries for Life Magazine – and has an older book called The Dead Beat: lost souls, lucky stiffs and the perverse pleasures of obituaries.
Her latest, library focused title is This Book is Overdue: how librarians and cybrarians can save us all. Obviously Johnson is familiar with writing about those who have been declared dead – as some have tried to say of the library in the age of the internet. Her approach in this book is one that would do Mark Twain – and Gordon Lightfoot for that matter -proud: ie. that such reports are exaggerated. She celebrates the stories of all kinds of modern librarians and other information professionals that author Christopher Buckley called “the very opposite of a ‘Shhhhh!’ It’s a very loud ‘Hooray!’”
Quiet Please, Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas and Free For All: oddballs, geeks, and ganstas in the public library by Don Borchert are two books of anecdotes that were published fairly near to each other in 2007 and 2008. Both are by men who have found themselves working in public libraries, and both aim to take a slightly mischievous look at the wide range of people who use – and occasionally, abuse – the library, and the sometimes surprising situations your average library worker can find themselves at the centre of.
If such stories of library misadventures don’t appeal to you, than how about love stories of libraries? Former SMU University Librarian Madeleine Lefebvre is the editor of a collection called The Romance of Libraries which is “a collection of true accounts of emotional attachments formed in and with libraries and the library field” (book jacket).