It's April 1st, book lovers, and the beginning of a month devoted to celebrating one of our favorite places on the planet: libraries! First off, April is School Library Month, and then there's National Library Week (April 13 through 19), National Library Workers Day (on April 15) and National Bookmobile Day (on April 16). Phew—that's a lot of celebrating!
All of this library love got us thinking about our favorite books about libraries and librarians, and so we decided to put together a list of them. Featuring cats, bookmobiles, archivists, time travelers, even Dracula—these 15 books will inspire a renewed appreciation for a place that is, in the words of Jamie Ford in his novel The Songs of Willow Frost, "like a candy store where everything is free."
Henry is a 28-year-old librarian who has a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time involuntarily. Stacking books on the shelves in the library's inner sanctum, he'll suddenly vanish, leaving behind a pile of clothes, only to materialize in some unknown past or future moment, naked and nauseated. Often he travels to a certain Michigan meadow and visits a little girl, Clare, who sneaks him food and clothes. (Read more)
The Ice Queen is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best. When the unnamed narrator is 8 years old and her brother, Ned, 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother would disappear—and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. Years later, Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida, while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died. (Read more)
This Book Is Overdue!
By Marilyn Johnson
As Marilyn Johnson postulates in the gloriously geeky This Book Is Overdue!, librarians are no longer ladies in cardigans hovering over the card catalog. The new librarians are bloggers, information junkies and protectors of freedom and privacy in the Patriot Act era. Says Johnson, “The most visible change to librarianship in the past generation is maybe the simplest: Librarians have left the building.” (Read more)
The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys (which include stops at several libraries) eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. (Read more)
By Martha Cooley
At its surface, The Archivist is the tale of its narrator, Matt Lane, a 60-ish librarian at a private university near New York. Matt has been entrusted with the care of certain personal correspondence between the poet T.S. Eliot and his friend Emily Hale, letters that are supposed to remain sealed until the year 2020. But the archivist's attempt to preserve the privacy of those letters is a metaphor for larger concerns. (Read more)
The Geographer's Library
By Jon Fasman
Reading The Geographer's Library is like stepping into a sepia-toned daguerreotype: The past here holds all the clues. The novel's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young, sometimes painfully naive cub reporter coasting along at a weekly newspaper in a sleepy New England town. When a professor at his alma mater dies in mysterious circumstances, the reporter's research for a routine obituary leads him into an unimaginably poisonous labyrinth. (Read more)
By Rebecca Makkai
What do you get when you pair a children’s librarian—whose father may be connected to the Russian mafia—with a curious 10-year-old boy whose dubious sexuality has caused his evangelical parents to enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material? What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands. (Read more)
On a cold winter night in a small town in Iowa, the director of the Spencer Public Library, Vicki Myron, was shocked to discover a tiny, weeks-old orange ball of fluff deposited in the returned book slot. For the next 19 years, the sweet and magical cat known as Dewey Readmore Books lived in the library, touching countless lives, offering hope and pride to a struggling community, and gaining worldwide adoration along the way. (Read more)
A thriller about a librarian? Have no fear, best-selling author Brad Meltzer soon gets you hooked. After a somewhat slow start, The Inner Circle quickly becomes a fast, fun thriller. Once the twists start coming, Meltzer proves his prowess with the Washington, D.C., political thriller, and soon it’s impossible to resist the lure of the next page. Meltzer cleverly disguises who’s telling the truth, making readers question if there’s anyone they can trust. (Read more)
Bartholomew Neil is a uniquely likable protagonist who at nearly 40 has lived with his mother his entire life. After her death, Bartholomew sets a few life goals, like having a beer in a bar with an age-appropriate friend and pursuing Girlbrarian, the lovely but withdrawn woman who shelves books at his local library. “Her long brown hair . . . covers her face like a waterfall can cover the entrance to a mysterious cave,” Bartholomew writes. (Read more)
Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. (Read more)
This literary mystery begins in a marvelous place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a repository for literary works no longer remembered by anyone. A 10-year-old boy named Daniel is taken there by his bookseller father to assuage the lingering pain of his mother's death. The old caretaker tells Daniel to choose one book from the labyrinthian stacks, take it away and make sure it never disappears. (Read more)
The Camel Bookmobile
By Masha Hamilton
Masha Hamilton's compelling third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, leaves no room for doubt: Books are essential. Cookbooks, novels, parenting books—they all matter to Fiona "Fi" Sweeney, a librarian from Brooklyn searching for fulfillment atop a book-laden camel in the arid and dangerous bush of Kenya. Tiny, far-flung villages populated by nomadic tribes, largely forgotten and neglected by the greater population of a more modern Africa, welcome the bookmobile and Fi with a combination of curiosity and wary distrust of Westerners' belief that the rest of the world needs guidance. (Read more)
Running the Books
By Avi Steinberg
Avi Steinberg was meant for greater things. If not a doctor or lawyer (per his family’s expectations), his time in yeshiva should at least have turned out a decent rabbi. But no; he left yeshiva for Harvard, then stalled out as a freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. In search of a new direction, and the security of a job with benefits, Steinberg answered an ad on Craigslist and began life anew as a librarian in a Boston prison. Running the Books chronicles Steinberg’s years on the job, introducing a cast of inmates with whom his involvement went beyond mere book recommendations. (Read more)
Library: An Unquiet History
By Matthew Battles
Our Well Read columnist writes: "If you are a regular reader of BookPage (or even an occasional one), chances are you are also someone who has spent a fair amount of time in a library. Like me, you probably remember the monumental day when you got your first library card and, since reaching that milestone of childhood, have spent perhaps a little too much time roaming the stacks. Until I read Matthew Battles' engaging book, Library: An Unquiet History, though, I had not given much thought to the colorful past of those buildings-full-of-books that so many of us love." (Read more)
What do you think, fellow library lovers? Help us expand the list by adding your recommendations below!
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite recent literary love stories—and our thoughts on what makes them memorable.
Of course, our compilation of five books is hardly comprehensive, considering the countless options to choose from. So, we're hoping you'll help us expand the list by voting for your favorite love story in our poll. Voting will be open through Valentine's Day, and we'll share the results the following week. Without further adieu, our favorite recent literary love stories:
Lynn, BookPage Editor
Helen Simonson's debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, proves that a love story about an older couple can be just as enchanting—and just as appealing to readers—as the connection between two freewheeling 20-somethings. Pettigrew, a retired (and very reserved) British military man, is irresistibly attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who runs a shop in his village. But with Pettigrew’s son and the narrow-minded ladies of the village standing in their way, can the major and Mrs. Ali build a life together? Simonson shows a wonderfully deft hand in exploring the personal and cultural issues that frame this touching story.
Read our review>>
Trisha, BookPage Managing Editor
Samuel Park’s moving first novel features a strong, memorable heroine torn between love and duty in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. When Soo-Ja meets Yul, she immediately feels a connection. Unfortunately, she has just agreed to marry another man. Since going back on her promise would mean disgrace for her family, Soo-Ja rejects Yul to marry Min, a decision that haunts her for 20 years. Though Soo-Ja and Yul see each other only periodically, and usually by chance, their fraught encounters are tense with the passion of unrequited love. Fans of grown-up, realistic love stories like Ha Jin’s Waiting or Austen’s Persuasion will devour this debut.
Louisa Clark and Will Traynor: The fact these two are such an unlikely pair makes their love story all the more moving. Freshly laid off and desperate for work, “ordinary girl” Lou takes a job as a companion to Will, an acerbic quadriplegic, former adrenaline junkie who’s understandably despondent due to his predicament. Lou speaks her mind, has a razor-sharp wit and is self-deprecating in a way that dares readers not to succumb to her charms, as Will himself eventually does. Yes, Me Before You is a multiple-hankie novel, but the end brims with such hope and promise that readers will find themselves smiling despite their tears.
Cat, BookPage Associate Editor
We often think of brilliant writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda as a fast-burning, glitzy mess at the heart of Jazz-Age NYC. Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald promises a beautiful and damned love story, but also something more. Fowler peels back the layers of history to reveal the unglamorous and rather normal story of their love. It’s the perfect book for readers who like a little dark truth with their romance.
Read our interview with Fowler>>
Hilli, BookPage Editorial Assistant
Eleanor & Park begins when two misfit teens meet on a school bus in 1986. There are no vampires and they don’t live in a dystopian society (depending on your view of suburban Omaha). Rainbow Rowell painstakingly captures the experience of young love—the bliss of holding hands, the shaking fits of glee after a first kiss, the mixtapes—but refuses to shy away from the confusing, untidy aspects that come with the territory. Eleanor and Park are real people with real complexities and a real, grown-up story that will break your heart in the best possible way.
Read our interview with Rowell>>
What do you think, readers? Chime in with your comments, below, and be sure to vote for your favorite literary love story—stay tuned for the results!
They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)
The Son, Philipp Meyer's epic, time-sprawling Western novel, landed in the #5 spot of our Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer called the family saga "a shining second step in a promising career." (Read the full review here and our interview with Meyer about the book here.)
We were curious about the books Meyer has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share:
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
This was recommended to me by Cressida Leyshon, the New Yorker editor, at a recent holiday party. By some miracle, despite being drunk on gallons of free champagne, I managed to remember the title. Turns out everyone in New York is reading this book. Often that’s reason enough to avoid something, but this book is actually brilliant. It’s being billed as the new version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but it’s not. It’s better. It is a goddamn excellent book.
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
I have been beating the drum on this one for a while. Before this book, Atkinson was known mostly as a crime novelist, but this is an absolutely brilliant work of literature. This is not the same as saying there are no differences between literature and entertainment, because those differences are real. But Atkinson is one of those rare writers who will be master of whatever she sets her mind to. It made me furious when this book was passed over for the Man Booker prize. But now it’s popping up on every best book of the year list for 2013, for very, very good reason.
Kafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami
I went through a huge postmodernist phase in university, but I thought it had been flushed from my system along with all the dope I smoked back then. I grew up into a fairly modernist writer, and the fact that every hipster wanna-be loves Murakami was enough to make me give him a wide berth for years. But Murakami actually belongs in his own category. Unlike a lot of other postmodern writers, his writing has real emotional depth. He doesn’t do anything just to be clever. There is always a point to his twists and turns. And the fact that this guy didn’t even start writing until he was nearly 30 years old . . . you’ve got to love a person like that, who in his late 20s picks up a pen for the first time and by his 40s is one of the modern masters. I think Kafka on the Shore is the one for everyone to start with.
What do you think, readers? Did you enjoy The Son, or do you plan on checking out any of Meyer's recommended books?
You voted, we counted, and in yesterday's edition of XTRA, we shared the results of our Readers' Choice Best Books of 2013 survey! While this year lacked a breakout hit the likes of last year's Gone Girl, it turns out that you guys agree with us on Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which came in at #1 on your list, as well as ours. Coming in a very close second—with only one vote less—is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Also making appearances on the list are mystery page-turners, stunning debuts and edge-of-your-seat thrillers, including Stephen King's Doctor Sleep and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (King's son), which both received the same number of votes! See the Readers' Choice Top 15 Books of 2013. Did your favorite book make the list?
A big box of 10 books is on its way to one lucky voter, Amy from Illinois, whose favorite book is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (#9). A big thank you to everyone who voted—we look forward to helping you discover more great books in 2014!
This fall, Jesmyn Ward followed up her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones with Men We Reaped, a poignant memoir in which she reflects upon the untimely deaths of five men in her life over the course of five years. Our reviewer calls the book—which came in at #4 in our list of the Best Books of 2013—"searingly honest and brutal." (Read our full review here.) We were curious about the books Ward has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing four recommendations, in fact:
SON OF A GUN By Justin St. Germain
Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun has stuck with me like few other books this year. He and I have both written about our losses, to understand them better, and so others will, too. Although the circumstances are quite different, we bonded over these shared experiences. Justin tragically lost his mother to murder, in 2001, just after the World Trade Centers came down. She was shot by Justin’s step-father, his mother’s fifth husband. I remember that time clearly: a whole nation suffering from grief. I had recently lost my brother, so spent those days doubly reeling, as did Justin. We both began our books as Stegner Fellows and spent time talking about how to approach these challenging topics. Son of a Gun is not a who-done-it, and it’s more than simply a memoir of loss, although that would be enough. Justin looks at the wider context of guns and violence in the United States, particularly in the West, where he’s from. And he examines the terrible plight of women who are victims of domestic violence. In his careful telling, Justin helps us all understand not only his mother but the culture of violence that leads to stories like these.
THRALL: POEMS By Natasha Trethewey
I am a new mother and I teach, so poetry, which I’ve always loved, has real appeal for pleasure reading. Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is among my recent favorites. Natasha was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, not far from where I grew up, and she and I have tread some similar terrain in our work, too, about race and history, complicated family, the South, but she does it with so much elegance! Her use of imagery, the precision and grace of her language, the overall craft of her work. She is rightly our Poet Laureate.
After a nearly 20-year career and millions of books in print, best-selling romance author Brenda Jackson has reached an impressive milestone with the publication of her latest novel, A Madaris Bride for Christmas—her 100th book!
Back in 1994, Jackson's first novel, Tonight and Forever, introduced the Madaris family. Matchmaking matriarch Mama Laverne has helped the Madaris men and women find everlasting love over the years, delighting and entertaining countless readers along the way. In A Madaris Bride for Christmas, Lee Madaris, one of Mama's grandsons and owner of one of the hottest hotels in Vegas, is determined to find a woman on his own, and has his sights set on pastry chef Carly Briggs.
With memorable characters, lots of sizzle and a few twists and turns, A Madaris Bride for Christmas is sure to satisfy fans of the series, hook some news ones and leave all readers looking forward to Jackson's 101st novel.
Karen Joy Fowler's riveting novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves landed in the #6 spot on our list of the Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer described it as, "a masterful account of a woman unraveling a tangle of family history, memory and the complex emotions that arise from the way she was raised." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fowler has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
I have been on book tour lately, hitting some of the book festivals around the country. The pleasure of a book tour, for me, is the chance to meet new writers combined with considerable time on planes and in airports, time in which to read their books. Since plane travel now involves inevitable delays, cancellations, hours on the tarmac and a myriad of other irritations, a book, a really good book, is a travel necessity.
Among my most recent modes of transportation:
As someone who was there during the '60s, I seldom think anyone gets the period quite right. It is far too easy to fall, one way or another, into caricature. Arcadia, which starts in the sixties but extends into the future, is a gorgeous exception, a perfect illustration of the writers’ maxim that careful use of the particular is the way to evoke the universal. This is a deep and deeply touching book.
Another big and beautiful book, this one about California during the Great Depression. Silver makes a wonderful job of the big canvas—poverty, politics, class, life and death—but it is the little moments of crystalline observation that I loved the most. She has a way of taking a familiar emotion and opening it up, turning it, so that we see it freshly, think about it harder. Wise and inspiring.
And now for something completely different. This is the book I am currently reading. Very suspenseful! Don’t tell me how it ends!
By Jeff VanderMeer
Four women—a psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist and a surveyor—are sent into Area X, an abandoned, uninhabited terrain from which 11 earlier expeditions have either failed to return or returned completely changed. VanderMeer’s descriptions of this mysterious world and the people traversing it are vivid, lush and increasingly ominous. I am finding this book unsettling and un-put-downable—like an old-fashioned adventure story, only weirder, beautifully written and not at all old-fashioned.
Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!
Kristina McMorris' third novel, The Pieces We Keep, is a gripping tale of love, grief, family and secrets—and an exploration of the intriguing notion that firsthand memories can be shared between different generations. In this guest blog post, McMorris discusses the real-life experiences and stories that inspired her to write the book:
My childhood home was haunted.
It all seemed to come out of nowhere: the TV and lamps started turning on by themselves; my sister’s room gained distinct “cold spots,” similar to ones you might detect in a swimming pool; my mother would be cooking dinner and smell perfume behind her, though nobody else was there; or, I would be alone in the house, and the floor above would suddenly creak with enough footsteps to indicate a party in the making. Later, we learned that our next-door neighbors had also noticed oddities occurring in their own house around the same time.
Eventually, my parents invited our family’s pastor over for advice. When he arrived and noticed an exotic carved mask, a recent gift from a friend’s travels, he expressed an uneasy feeling and suggested my parents remove it—which they did. Our pastor then blessed the house, room by room, and all the strange happenings came to a stop. Only later did we discover that the mask had been purchased in the notoriously mysterious country of Haiti, and that our house had been built on the edge of what was originally a cemetery.
(Poltergeist memories, anyone?)
Whether our experiences were actually born of the paranormal, or simply dramatic perceptions of logical instances, I couldn’t tell you for sure. What I do know is that, as a result, I grew up with a mind open to possibilities beyond explanation.
Perhaps this was a large part of the reason a particular news segment piqued my interest two years ago. Apparently, as a toddler, the boy in the story suffered from recurrent night terrors about dying in a plane crash. His knowledge of obscure historical facts ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.
On a personal note, my oldest son had also suffered from night terrors in his toddler years and would even speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Could they have been merely the creative ramblings of a youngster? Absolutely. Still, the writer in me began to wonder: What would I have done if he, too, had spouted historical details he couldn’t possibly have known? What if those details were secrets other people wanted to keep buried?
From these questions a novel started to take shape. Completing the premise was a declassified report a friend had shared with me: an astounding case of Nazi saboteurs who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. As I researched the topic further, I discovered a trail of romance and tragedy, deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover, and a secret military tribunal convened by FDR. It all seemed the elements of a Hollywood film, a fascinating tale I couldn’t resist.
Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Pieces We Keep? Find out more about McMorris and the book on her website.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
The brilliance of Adelle Waldman’s debut novel is subtle, not flashy. You might think that a voyeuristic peek into the mind of a 30-something male writer as he navigates the Brooklyn literary and dating scenes would be salacious or titillating, as the “affairs” of the title suggests. Not so. Waldman’s nonjudgmental, unsentimental narrative allows readers to determine for themselves whether Nate is sincere (if oblivious at times) or a fickle cad—or a mixture of both.