Portrait of the artist as a young librarian.

When I was eight, the librarian pulled my mother aside and said she was worried because I had read every children’s book on their shelves. That seems like a hyperbolic and inaccurate memory but it nonetheless smacks of the truth.

I’ve been an unrepentant book fiend from an early age.

I’d opened my own library that year. I made a card for each book I owned and slipped it into an envelope I’d pasted on the inside cover. I taped handwritten tags onto each spine Identifying the book’s category and author. And I started to lend them to the other children in the neighborhood.

Alas, my library didn’t stay in business long. My borrowers turned out not to be returners and, when my shelves emptied, my mother insisted I close the library for good.

In my teens, I began typing index cards for every book I read. I included all of the publishing information as well as a brief review and filed them in a green metal box. I can’t find that box anymore but I did unearth a bound roster of books on onionskin that I began when I was seventeen and quite insufferable.

The list is balanced between lighter fare like Gland Time by Don Townsend (my review: “Rubbish; Australian rubbish in fact”), The Pleasure of Pipe Smoking (“Great stuff, hilarious too”) and Le Crime de L’Orient Express by Agatha Christie (“Refresher in frog before Princeton placement test. Quite easy, almost as natural as English. Ignore otherwise.”) and weightier tomes like Aristophanes, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ulysses, Roth (“Still shit after all these years”) and The Diary of Vaslav Nijisky (“Allegedly a brilliant philosophical treatise on human condition but is actually nothing but pointless rambling. Skip it.“)

I don’t really know why making these sorts of lists has always been of interest to me. It’s partly anality, I guess, though I was never a very neat typist and the cards are full of white out and backspaces. But it did seem very important to me to put down all of the minutiae of copyright dates and various publishers and listing every single short story in a collection. This from Graham Greene: “Doctor Crombie (Doctor maintains that sex leads to cancer), May We Borrow Your Husband? (Homosexuals and newlyweds), The Overnight Bag (Dead baby?)” and so on.

Maybe it’s just a form of hoarding — I definitely like the idea of arranging books in lists and on shelves, sorting them alphabetically, by height or spine color. There’s something about creating a log that makes the book’s mine. I still have this impulse, but now I log everything with the GoodReads app (apparently I read 69 books in 2018).

From my Goodreads archive

I never lost my love of libraries and am fortunate to be married to a fellow book fiend. Each weekend we go to one of three branches equidistant from our home and return with huge piles of books. On our last visit the librarian said, “I’ve never seen anyone take so many books out at once” as we loaded two carrier bags full. Little did she know that we also have a dozen ebooks checked out on our kindles using the fabulous Libby app.

Library books are like a buffet. You dip into something that looks tasty but if it disappoints after a few pages, toss it on the pile and select something else.

A gorgeous and giant library.
Check it out!

If you’re a library lover too, I strongly urge you to borrow the recent and wonderful The Library Book. It’s focussed on the Los Angeles central library and a fire that engulfed it in 1986. It’s also about the history and future of libraries and is packed with loads of incredible characters, surprising facts, and so many books. And it’s by Susan Orleans (The Orchid Thief, Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night and more) who writes with such clarity and poetry and wit  — and loves libraries as much as we do.

13 thoughts on “Portrait of the artist as a young librarian.”

  1. I, too, had a library as a kid and lost half my books. Chose my college (Wellesley) based on the loveliness of the (then) bookstore (Hathaway’s, an antique house in the village.). Eventually, worked in a series of public and then academic libraries … NOT a dull and quiet profession. Read The Library Book and enjoyed every page.
    Library Rats of the world rejoice!

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  2. Yes! Libraries are it. A place where strangers will lend you books. We have a most wonderful library in Halifax, NS. It is both beautiful and friendly. Everyone loves it. Here is a short video of Punchdrunk’s immersive workshop for schools The Lost Lending Library – The Lost Lending Library – Punchdrunk Enrichment
    https://youtu.be/Tmehxk37fgs It is a fantastic concept and I wish we could do it here…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up in the polio era. immediately after school closed for the summer I was whisked away to a small town in Wisconsin.,,Sheboygan Falls. My playmates mother was the cleaning lady for the Library. I had free access to it …Oh the adventures I went on reading many forbidden books to a 9 year old.. This Library was my playground.

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  4. I was a library assistant in our local high school and share your book obsession. Thanks to you I will recommend “The Library Book” for my bookclub selection this month. Really enjoy your posts – such a talented writer and drawer!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A library is like a church! I once saw a tiny notebook with different colored date stamps on the cover, I assume to keep track of books. i so wish I had bought it now! I write the titles of the books I’ve read on the inside cover of my journal. The bottom of my work tote bag is full of post-its with names of authors and titles of books! I’m glad I’m not the only one with stacks of books all over the house 🙂

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  6. I was thinking about the book club recently and you post this. I like it. Read three Haruki Murakami books in December. “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is one I would recommend to those interested in mastering anything. Definitely have your mojo back (not that you really lost it). Thank you Danny for the tips and the sharing.

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  7. Thank you, Danny. I never could ‘get’ the ‘desert island with a single item” image. Just lock me in a library. Leave assorted food periodically outside front door and Go Away.

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  8. Yay! The Library Book looks wonderful, just joined the long queue for it at my library. Love this post! When I was around 8 I had also read all the books, and was ecstatic when I was awarded special permission (with mom’s signature required) to use the upper classman’s library on the other side of campus. So exciting! I’m still the girl with the piles of books, and the bookshelf by the door system to keep out of library fine debt, and the capacious sturdy satchel to carry them.. Thanks so much for all you do Danny.
    Kim

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  9. When I was a young child,I decided I was a librarian and even had a name other than my own.I would rub an eraser on pencil lead and stamp all of the books on my parents shelves. My youngest daughter is a librarian and so is her husband.. libraries are wonderful and I did not become a librarian ,I became a nurse,probably because my Mother contracted Polio and my attention was diverted to Caregiving.But grateful that my daughter did become a librarian and carries on our love of books and libraries,Peace and Healing Danny

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  10. I too love the Library. And I love books about bookstores, libraries and words. I recently discovered Scribd –
    Unlike the library or ebooks that we purchase, for the cost of one ebook purchase a month it gives access to just about any book you could ever want. They give you a free month trial, to get you hooked. 🙂 The Library book that you mention will be available 1/11 on AudioBook!
    I am enjoying your blog posts Danny. Happy 2019.

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  11. My shelves bulging with books would have overwhelmed the house if Kindle hadn’t been invented, now I can hide my hoarding of books in a very small space and the books are way cheaper than the hardbacks I used to buy, because I didn’t have the patience to wait for a paperback version. Looking at all these comments I see I’m not alone in my love for books. Thanks for sharing this Danny.

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  12. was at the library today to pick up a hold!! they were having a contest to win a free book (Atlas Obscura) – you had to locate a book with a Dewy #368.8 and a bookmark with Mr. Dewey’s photo. I found it easily and then wondered if anyone under 50 – maybe 40 – would know how to find the book!!! Do they teach kids the Dewey Decimal System?

    Like

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