We called it the “lie-ba-rare-ry” or “lie-berry” but of course it’s properly The Library, and on this National Library Week we honor the place where each of us, in our hometowns and school houses, spent a large part of our formative years in this glorious building that held more fact and fiction than you could digest in a dozen lifetimes.
The Writer’s Almanac reminds me that the Library of Congress, or “Gramps” as all the other libraries call it, was founded this week in 1800. Had 964 books and nine maps.
Today, it’s a bit of a different ballgame, and if you work there, you best buckle your chinstrap. The Library of Congress has more than 17 million books now, plus recordings and art and lots of maps (like, way more than the original nine) and gets 15,000 new items each workday. They’ve got books like Hamlet had the crazies.
Speaking of, maybe the Library of Congress’s birth is why we celebrate this final week of April as National Library Week, but maybe it’s because the Bard of Avon and pretty good hand, William Shakespeare, is thought to have been born April 23, 1564, and for certain died on the same date, 52 years later, I forswear. He’s considered our greatest English dramatist and was also clever in the sonnet game:
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Except for that one time you were mean to me
And I thought, “What the heck; I’ll go ahead and scorn.”
He was a handful, ol’ William was.
So when you go by your local library branch this week, maybe tip your cap to this magical place, a joint that has plenty for kids of all ages, a place that connects the community and shares internet for job seekers and self-educators, a rest stop for movie night and craft night and poetry readings, if such is your thing.
And books. If you haven’t read or listened to one lately, here are a few I’ve finished so far this year, and brief reviews, just to rattle your cage and get you to thinking.
Amor Towles was an investments pro in Manhattan for 20 years, writing on the side, and is now a fulltime novelist and thank goodness. He is a wizard of time and place, a handy vocabulary but not high-falutin’, and tremendous with characters. My favorite of his three books is A Gentleman in Moscow, about an aristocrat sentenced to life in a luxury hotel across from the Kremlin in 1920, soon to be a Showtime/Paramount series starring Ewan McGregor as Count Alexander Rostov, now one of my favorite fictional people.
The Lincoln Highway is about four boys in 1954 who mean to go to San Francisco and end up in New York, and Rules of Civility stars a wonderful female character, Katey Kontent, a normal girl thrown into high society in post-depression New York City. Doesn’t sound like much, but I wish I could read each of them again for the first time.
Did not enjoy Ghost Story by Peter Straub, although it was a hit when released in 1979 and the movie (Fred Astaire and some other biggies were in it) was good, which is why I wanted to read it. Mistake.
Did not like The Haunting of Hill House, 1959, from Shirley Jackson (she wrote the short story The Lottery that we all read in high school). I wish Hill House had been only a short story.
And didn’t enjoy Fahrenheit 451, the 1953 classic by Ray Bradbury. It’s about banning books and so in the current climate, I thought I’d catch up. Instead, I wish I’d have banned myself from reading it. No doubt it was timely, though, 70 years ago.
More fiction I did like was Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, speaking of catching up, as this is the Stephen King short story, more of a novella, that the movie is based on. The movie is better but the story, of justice and hope and friendship and humanity, is just so good.
Stoner by John Williams didn’t get a lot of raves in 1965 when released but it is beautifully written “academic” or “campus” novel about a farm boy who becomes an English professor and comes to terms with a life that didn’t go as he’d planned. And why I’ve felt recently like reading novels 60 years old is a mystery even to my own personal self.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (2022) starring a talking octopus named Marcellus (or at least he shares his thoughts) is about how we are better together, whether we have two arms or whether we have eight.
Out of room, so, suggested non-fiction I’ve read this year, and would recommend each, depending on your interests.
The Storyteller’s Nashville by Tom T. Hall, if you like Tom T. Hall.
Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg, if you like Jerry Lee Lewis or are just interested in a fellow Louisianan.
Killer Triggers and I Will Find You, by Joe Kenda, the Colorado detective who became famous through TV’s Homicide Hunters. If you’re a fan, you might prefer the audio versions; he narrates them.
Something Wonderful: Rogers and Hammerstein by Todd Purdum; this bureau has a fascination with musical theatre.
On Writing by Stephen King. His wife pulled the draft of Carrie out of the trash and suggested he keep trying so …
And finally, enjoyed To Wake the Giant, Pearl Harbor historical fiction by Jeff Shaara, a longtime pro in the war arena, and Unsinkable, which is not fiction but is the real thing about five men aboard the World War II destroyer USS Plunkett, and especially their “problem” that day at Anzio. Studs.
Happy reading or listening, and happy National Library Week. Got anything to share?
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