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Book: Free For All

September 6, 2010
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I picked this up recently at the Alameda library (a very fine library, by the way) and it was a fun, fast read.

The author is an assistant (?) librarian at a Los Angeles branch library, and this is a collection of short sketches about the various regulars, kids, perverts and other quirky folk who frequent the library. Fun stuff, right? So, it was pretty good, but the writing wasn’t fantastic (although I’ve read worse recently) and I’m not sure why there was so much profanity sprinkled throughout. Because he’s a tough librarian? I certainly don’t mind the profanity but it was a little jarring in a book that was otherwise pretty low-key.

I’ve never worked in a library but I’ve spent plenty of time in them, of course. Thankfully I was never one of the kids the author talks about, who come to the library after school, to stay until closing when their parents finally pick them up. He makes the point that indeed, five hours is a long time to sit at the library, especially when you are supposed to be quiet. Some of the parents in the stories are pretty awful.

Thankfully I’ve also never encountered anyone seriously scary in the library. I sometimes get a vague sense of panic when I am deep in the stacks — something about the high shelves and the eerie quiet can make my mind freak out a little sometimes. But I would hate to be the person who turns around to leave the aisle only to get a full frontal view of the nice man in the rain coat.

While this book was a nice light read during a time when I am feeling extremely scattered and have far too many things on my mind, I still feel like it suffers from this modern trend I’m noticing of rather bad personal memoirs. The writing isn’t fantastic, the stories are pretty interesting — but they could be better. I was actually surprised that this guy does NOT have a blog upon which he based the book — it’s that sort of a book. If only it were titled something like, “Overdue: My Year Of Working At The Los Angeles Library,” then the picture would be complete.

Still, I don’t want to rag on this too much; it was amusing and fun and made me think about all the libraries I have gone to and loved. Let’s see. Here is my Top Five Libraries list.

1. Corvallis Public Library: One of the prettiest libraries ever, with an amazing reading room with cozy chairs and fantastic magazines.

2. Oulu Library (Finland): For its blessedly large selection of English-language books, which saved me when I lived there.

3. Alameda Free Library: I loved the old building it was in when I first moved here, and the new building is a fantastic piece of “green” architecture. Also it has a really great selection of books.

4. Oakland Public Library System: For being huge, and introducing me to the delights of online requesting.

5. Philomath Public Library: Where it all started for me, and the cause of some small-town hubbub in the 90s as the town tried to build a new library. I have read just about every children’s book they have (up to about 1983 or so).

I feel pretty happy about the fact that our new house is only a few blocks away from a library branch, although I notice it is currently only open Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. But that’s okay — the main library is a gorgeous building only 2 miles away. I figured out that I will have easy access to two libraries out in the Tri-Valley, plus the Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley libraries. BOOKS GALORE. Happy, happy, happy.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2010 2:17 pm

    i like these kind of memoir/personal essay type books. ive been reading them on and off my whole life and i think thats why i love blogs so much, the two can be very similar. (if done well.)

    im loving my tualatin library and they have introduced me to the delights of online requesting. if they dont have the book i want then they’ll get it for me from one of the other 12 in the county. yay!

    • September 8, 2010 4:59 pm

      I like them too, but I am usually somewhat disappointed in them. Note that this does not deter me from checking them out again and again. I LOVE ONLINE REQUESTING!!!

  2. September 6, 2010 4:54 pm

    What a great idea….I have such fine memories of my childhood library! You’re taking me back.

  3. September 6, 2010 7:19 pm

    Our local branch is currently under construction. It had a cool exterior but a horrible interior that was in desperate need of updating. So the fact that it’s currently closed is a good thing. I’m hoping they update the selection of books as well.

    • September 8, 2010 5:00 pm

      I hope so for you too! Nothing better than a well-stocked, pretty library. Such a wonderful resource. I’m hoping to get involved in my new local library.

  4. September 7, 2010 7:29 am

    You’re new place is in a library hot zone! How lucky are you? I read this book a year or two ago when it first came out and felt the same about it as you. It was light and amusing, could have done without all the swearing, and it really wasn’t all that well written.

    • September 8, 2010 5:00 pm

      I know, I’m so lucky! I liked it, but it wasn’t all THAT great.

  5. September 8, 2010 11:31 am

    The way you describe this – sounds like it was based on a blog, etc. – reminds me of Sloane Crosley’s I was Told There’d Be Cake. More personal memoirs, vaguely funny, relatively relatable, written well enough, and just not quite impactful. Like she was trying to be David Sedaris, who always makes things funny and meaningful, and missed the meaningful part to just tell amusing stories. I’ve always thought that some librarian somewhere should write a memoir, but it sounds like I’d give this one a pass.

    • September 8, 2010 5:01 pm

      Yes, there’s a certain current “style” about these memoirs that is supposed to be funny/hip/quirky/pointed/something but unless it’s really done well (or unless you are David Sedaris), they often fall flat.

      If you find a good librarian memoir, let me know!

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