Friday, December 28, 2007

Matilda in Limbo

It's been at the Circulation Desk since last summer: a copy of Roald Dahl's Matilda-- one that isn't ours.

It isn't unusual for patrons to return a book to us that belongs at the Howe; many patrons have cards at both libraries. We also share patrons with the Marion Cross School library, and we have a place on the shelf for their strays as well. If we have someone headed in those directions, we drop them off ourselves. We otherwise call over and have the librarians check in with the appropriate patrons. Pretty simple.

But this one isn't simple, though I find myself moved to act. This copy of Matilda comes from a very special library,
Grandma's Library. In an elegant hand, a message on the flyleaf says, "This book belongs in Grandma's Library. Please bring it back! Thank you!"

It's easy to see how one of Grandma's copies could end up at NPL. Clearly, Grandma is a pro: the dust cover is protected by a the clear protective stuff that other libraries use. There's even a card in the back with due dates carefully stamped, and a little pocket with author and title. Best of all, she's chosen a child-friendly book filled with humor and delight.

Grandma forgot just one crucial thing: her name!

Her address and phone would be dandy, too. If there's one thing a librarian appreciates, it's another librarian, particularly one who shares her private collection as Grandma has been willing to do. We want this crucial volume returned to our respected colleague.

So I appeal to you, my readers (all 3 of you!): should you encounter this post and know the Grandma-Librarian of whom I write, please contact her or me. We are eager for Matilda and Grandma to experience the joyous reunion that we hope awaits them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rediscovering Dickens

With the holidays upon us, there's something inevitable about Charles Dickens, particularly if you have television. A Christmas Carol will grace the channels at least a dozen times, I suspect, and the trials of the Cratchetts and the second chance tossed to Ebeneezer Scrooge will remind us not to postpone joy, that our capacity to love and give are our true legacies. The blessed Dickens Dictum, in other words, is a part of our culture's holiday experience.

Dickens is such a giant presence in our entertainment industry that
it's easy to forget what a master writer he was. Every child actor from Freddie Bartholomew on has taken a crack at cuting up Dickens' title characters. Musicals abound, all "based on Dickens' timeless tale" as the display ads always put it. It's easy to lose the core creations in all the spin-offs.

Happily, the books on tape and CD in NPL's collection can serve as a reminder of his fundamental genius, along with the print versions of his many masterpieces. I have been working my way through our Dickens audiobooks, starting with A Tale of Two Cities and proceeding on to David Copperfield. At the moment I am listening to Great Expectations, which I hadn't experienced since the ninth grade. My God! I find myself thinking, These works were wasted on my callow, youthful self! It's wonderful to sit before a roaring fire and listen to the words--the characters, the
dialogues, the descriptions-- that so many have enjoyed before me. I find that I can't quite get enough.

I tend to become a little fanatical in my enthusiasms. Since I have fallen in love with red kuri squash, I find myself buying it wherever I can find it, knowing that its availability will be gone too soon. Similarly, I've been scanning NPL's catalog just to see
how long I can stay on this Dickens-go-round. Happily, I see that we also have recorded versions of Bleak House, the Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist, as well as A Christmas Carol.On the print side of things we have two volumes of Dickens' Christmas Stories, as well as all the titles mentioned above, as well as Nicolas Nickleby.

It's that vision of justice thwarted, the boundless sympathy for innocents, the push for reconciliation, the mastery of language,
those unforgettable characters and their well-tailored names that have me as filled with wonder. With our positively Dickensian weather forecasts, perhaps you'll find stories for drawing near the fire as well.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Surprising Delight

I'm not anti-intellectual, but I never was much interested in a magazine in NPL's collection called The American Scholar.

It turns out that it's only because I never took a good look. When Nancy Osgood was in recently and mentioned the magazine, I felt my mind opening. Anything Nancy values is worth at least a try. The American Scholar, a publication of Phi Beta Kappa, turns out to be something akin to the New Yorker, only without as many cartoons.

In its pages lie superb fiction and non-fiction, by the likes of Alice Munro, John Barth, Anne Beatty, Louis Begley, and Ethan Fishman. I read wonderful poems by Louise, Gluck, Robert Pinsky, David Sofield, and John
Hollander. There are lively and fascinating articles on cell biology and religion, whether or not Alger Hiss was the spy the government said he was, the life and legacy of Ralph Ellison, and one I particularly enjoyed, "Church and State: How to Tell the Difference," which examines our forefathers' take on the First Amendment and includes a wonderful section on Roger Williams.

I suppose the title put me off initially. As it turns out, American Scholar simply appeals to the part of me that believes in lifelong learning. I'll be reading this magazine regularly from now on. The

If the authors above click with you, pick up a copy next time you're at NPL.

It's a gem.