Fun fact: September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month. Of course, I think that should be every month. September is also back-to-school time, August start dates notwithstanding, and we also celebrate Banned Books Week at the end of the month. Are you sensing a theme yet? That’s right: books and libraries, my two favorite subjects, besides the post-apocalypse. And cats. And coffee.
So here’s a brief rundown: First, if you don’t have a library card, get one. It’s magical. With your card, you can borrow more books and audiobooks than you could read in a lifetime. You can stream movies and access online resources that normally would cost you hundreds of dollars. Second, celebrate the freedom to read anything you want. There are books that pop up on the American Library Association’s list of frequently banned and challenged books. Read them because you can. Lists of banned and challenged books are available online, including on Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s website.
Here are some intriguing (I promise) reads about books and librarians:
“The Personal Librarian” by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. The little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, who was J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian and one of the most powerful women in New York in the early 1900s. Hired to curate a collection for his newly built Morgan Library, Belle becomes a popular fixture on the New York society scene, renowned for her impeccable taste and negotiating skills in the art and book world. Her secret, though, could bring her world crashing down: She is a Black woman, born Belle Marion Greener, passing for white. “The Personal Librarian” tells the story of this witty, remarkable woman and what she must do to protect her family and carefully crafted white identity in a racist world.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. “It was a pleasure to burn.” No list about libraries and books would be complete without Bradbury’s classic sci-fi novel set in a future dystopia built on censorship. Guy Montag is a firefighter whose job is to burn books that are not government-approved. Basically, every book in existence. Society is boring and Guy’s life is boring. Then he gradually becomes exposed to the ideas contained in the books, separating him from the false reality the government has imposed on its citizens. Ironically, “Fahrenheit 451” made it on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books.
“When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II” by Molly Guptill Manning. The true story of how reading saved the sanity of hundreds of thousands of soldiers during World War II is juxtaposed with the book burning by the Nazis and the fictional government in “Fahrenheit 451.” In this fascinating history, Manning tells the story of the Armed Services Editions of books that were distributed to GIs during World War II. The ASE group gave away nearly 123 million copies of 1,322 books, small editions that could be tucked into a pocket and helped sustain soldiers through the horrors they endured.
“The Library of the Unwritten” by A.J. Hackwith. In Hackwith’s imaginative tale, unfinished books reside in Hell’s Library of the Unwritten. And when restless characters escape from those books, it’s head librarian Claire’s job to usher them back into their places. When a hero escapes from a book in search of its author, Claire and her assistants Brevity and Leto must track down and capture him. The retrieval goes awry when the terrifying angel Ramiel attacks them, convinced they hold the Devil’s Bible, whose text is a powerful weapon in the struggles between heaven and hell. Leave it to the librarians to keep heaven, hell and Earth in their places, am I right?
“Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing” edited by Stephanie Stokes Oliver. This exquisite collection of Black literature spans 250 years of history, from Frederick Douglass to Ta-Nehisi Coates. Throughout American history, Black people are the only group of people to have been forbidden by law to learn to read. This anthology seeks to surface that injustice and subjugation, as well as highlight the hard-won literary progress that has been made. With a variety of classic and modern contributors, in voices sometimes haunting, sometimes humorous, this volume gathers the experiences of 25 of America’s most important writers.
“Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian” by Avi Steinberg. Somehow, disenchanted Harvard graduate Steinberg decided his personal brand of therapy was to become a librarian in a rough Boston prison. For two years, Steinberg brought literature to those who might never see the outside world again. He taught a creative writing course for inmates, listening to their stories and reflecting on his own life simultaneously. Eventually, Steinberg came to feel like an unwilling jailer and left the job. Those who enjoyed Piper Kerman’s “Orange is the New Black” will see similarities between the two stories that take place on opposite sides of the bars.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. Another book-related title found on the list of challenged and banned books, Zusak’s young adult novel is neither a light nor a short read, but it is worth it for adults as well as teens. Cleverly narrated by Death himself, “The Book Thief” tells the story of Liesel Meminger, who lives in a village outside of Munich during World War II. Liesel finds a book in a cemetery after her brother’s funeral and is compelled to start stealing books to help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding.
Visit librarypoint.org/card to apply for a Central Rappahannock Regional Library online, in September and all year long.
Tracy McPeck is Adult Services Coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library.