In preparation for a long car trip, I got an audio book from the library, as I so often do. Listening in the car didn’t work out as I’d planned, but when I got home, I was so fascinated by the book that I got the print version (pictures!) The Library Book by Susan Orlean is ostensibly about the fire that consumed a great deal of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. In fact, it is a history of and love letter to libraries, librarians, and books. I had heard of this fire on a podcast about cookbooks–a cookbook collector who lived in a part of California subject to wildfires had donated a great many of her books to this same library where, ironically, they were consumed by an arson-set fire.
The Library Book tells about the history of libraries, the tragedies that have befallen some of them, and their resilience in rising from the ashes. She introduces us to librarians, ancient and modern. Ms. Orlean describes her magical childhood trips to her hometown library and the continuing magic that is the modern-day library, source of so much more than books. Today’s library contains books, periodicals, assorted historical documents, photographs and art works, computer terminals, voting registration information, support services for homeless people, and much more.
My own love affair with libraries started when I rebelled against the books foisted off on children such as myself where the animal so often died or the little girl was subjected to all manner of horrors until the end when all was forgiven. I was disgusted. Where, I asked myself, was the justice? That’s when I discovered the shelves and shelves of mysteries. If someone dies, it’s in the beginning and by the end of the book, justice is served. I worked my way through every mystery in the county library in my hometown.
I was fortunate to grow up in a house with books. I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and the beauty of his poetry at an early age. My brothers and I were known to act out bits of Shakespeare–we were mad for the ghost scenes in Hamlet. Owning books came naturally to me. Perhaps it has come a little too easily. My house groans under the weight of all the books it contains.
This summer I’ve helped my friend, Dennis Young, sell his books at a couple of conventions. Other people were selling books, too, so, yes, I came home with books. While at the horror convention, Crypticon, I discovered a new genre: splatter westerns. Imagine a slasher horror movie in the old west with elements of the paranormal. Not what I expected I’d be reading, but given my childhood reading material and my on-going passion for classic horror films, maybe not so surprising. Of course, I also came home with some mysteries, still among my first loves.
Audio and paper books from the library, old books on line from Project Gutenberg, new books from indie authors, I love them all. And librarians! There is a current internet meme about an Old English word for library that means “book hoard”. What a lovely word! It easily conjures images of librarians as dragons in their library lairs, protecting their books. But unlike dragons, librarians are eager to share their treasures. I salute all the library dragons and bless them for doing their best to keep the book hoards safe for us all.
Image: Partial book hoard.