Tag Archives: libraries

The Tragedy of the Spoiled Victory Garden Canned Green Beans.*

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United States Army

On this day in 1945 Germany signed an unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters in Reims, France, to take effect the following day. Thus ended the European conflict of World War II. Like so many other institutions, the South Side branch of Carnegie Library was deeply affected by the war, as evidenced by the war-time annual reports. The branch had the same Head Librarian during the Great Depression and all of World War II. The only thing I know about Ann Macpherson is that she was salty, sassy, an advocate for her customers and her community, found the loss of “her boys” devastating and rejoiced in the baby boom at the end of the war (and if I wrote half the stuff she wrote I’d be looking for another job).

It is easy to forget to how long and difficult the Great Depression was, but in 1939 things were finally turning around:

The atmosphere of renewed hope and vigor was as palpable as the bleak depression and finely-strung patient endurance of the past ten years. Not that prosperity had returned, but that a respite had been given.

And a little later:

In the shift from depression to wartime economy, South Side has sent over 6000 men into the armed forces; men are working to capacity; children have left school for jobs in droves; or have obtained work permits for after-school employment; and money is flowing freely.

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USAAF 3rd Bomb Group photographer Jack Heyn reading at his bunk, Dobodura Airfield, Australian Papua, mid-1943 , Jack Heyn

In 1942, well into the bustling war-time economy, Ms. Macpherson writes:

It has not been easy for many of the unemployed, so prevalent on the South Side during the last ten years, to get in step again with war-time schedules. So many borrowers report exhaustion from the varying shifts, much overtime, unforeseen demands and the inexperience of their help, more recently women. The complain they find no time to do the tinkering around the house their wives expect.  They say they cannot concentrate on books they know are worthwhile, “By the time I read two newspapers and listen to the radio, it’s time for bed.” Yet many borrowers are reading the books of the war of the news-interest type, party of the labor literature, and an occasional academic discussion of the better world they hope to see.

Can you imagine saying you don’t have time for books because you are busy reading two newspapers a day? And when they did have time to read, what did they read?

Books about the war are read with avidity by the younger boys, and normally by older men. Women refuse them absolutely, except where they describe army life or the countries where their men are fighting. War cartoon books lead in popularity. So far the discharged solders in the community seem not to have been overseas; their reading is general, although both they and their families are interested in psychology- not in rehabilitation books.  With the birthrate again on the upswing, books in child care are in demand. (1944)

Soldiers were coming home educated!

Reports of camp and overseas reading have been astounding; psychology in general, but especially Freud, seems to have been given a thorough going over; in fiction, the general fear seems to be that he will be given something namby-pamby, and great as is his appreciation of Pocket Books, he is glad to get away from them; apparently there are too many missing pages at the beginning and the end of the well-thumbed classics. Some are definitely checking war books with their own experiences, some are reading on some certain country- one at least to understand England because he married an English girl out in Australia. There is also a GI crop of babies planned for, and books for expectant mothers are in demand- by the husband. (1945)

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African-American US Navy Steward’s Mate 2nd Class James Lee Frazer reading the Bible aboard a ship, 9 Jan 1945, United States National Archives

And, of course, the library is always about the questions, the questions, the questions:

The reference work has been as erratic as usual…Most exciting, of course, the chap who wants a contour map as he is to help bomb Pittsburgh or the young doctor back from Casablanca who kept a taxi waiting while the library located his new assignment in Virginia, to which even the recruiting office had been unable to direct him. He stopped in weeks later to report he had made plane connections and been in charge of a small hospital of his own and the next step was the Pacific in the “most coveted position of the Marine Corps.” (1942)

The war was changing our library customers in big and little ways. One thing Ms. Macpherson noted was changes in immigration:

From the time the branch was opened, work with foreigners was the theme of annual reports. The foreigner of those days no longer exists; the foreigner of today is less picturesque, he is almost non-existent in the sense of a helpless immigrant in a strange land…(1943)

But it’s still Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t be home if someone wasn’t starting something:

Recurrent tides of Polish and Lithuanian patriotism may send a few young people to read foreign books, but the young people are little interested in the nationalism which is a hindrance to the Americanism. The children are pretty weary of the old-world quarrels which are brought into the neighborhood and fostered by the nationalistic clergy and foreign-language newspapers. (1943)

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American sailor reading in his bunk aboard USS Capelin, August 1943, United States National Archives

1945 ended on a high note for the branch, particularly in regards to the returning soldiers:

His experiences have given him in general the following attitudes: he “never wants to see a gun again”; he is “all confused”; he has a profound respect for education; he needs little orientation in intercultural appreciation–as one quotes, “in the army all blood is type O”; he is very modest, and is sure the “heroes” did not return; he thinks his own little niche in world geography, i.e., the South Side, is “pretty swell”; he wants a better job than he had when he went away; he feels pretty rich, if he has been overseas several years with no place to spend his money; he has not faith that there will not be “another war in twenty or thirty years” and sometimes thinks “America is too soft-hearted and should finish the job”; he is already disillusioned about the peace; he is Anglophobe or Anglophile; Russophobe or Russophile in about the same ratio as before the war.

All in all, at the present moment, he is rejoicing in his sanity, his physical stamina, and his retained or regained sense of humor; he realizes the meaning of radar and the atomic bomb; and if he is inclined to be materialistic, he at least still has tremendous zest for living.

And finally, proof that the library has always been and always will be a civilizing force:

When re-registering the servicemen, it is interesting to have them present the old library card with a flourish and remark it has never left their wallet since they left home, while one lad when asked if he had his old card, said, “Until it was taken from me in a German prison camp.” The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh  library cards have traveled over all the war zones, and renewing the card seems to be part of the rite of returning to civilian life.

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Happy VE Day! (Tomorrow!)

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*Where did I find the title of this post? It comes from one inexplicable sentence written in 1943: “The tragedy of the spoiled Victory Garden canned green beans was not averted by the library books, but the danger of food poisoning was.” No story, no follow-up…

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Go West…

As an outreach librarian for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I find myself in various neighborhoods throughout the city from week to week. In my year-end reflections, I’ve realized that through my job I’ve had the opportunity to discover new (to me) or otherwise unfrequented parts of this exquisite city of ours. Thanks to some programming I’ve been involved in over the past year, I’ve become much more familiar especially with two of our more western neighborhoods – The West End and Sheraden.

The West End branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is one of our 19 locations which has had the benefit of a recent renovation. Now replete with a newly paved parking lot and elevator access, along with a very warm and comforting sitting area, this little branch is managed by colleague Mark Lee. It is a gem in the West End neighborhood both physically and with regard to the multitude of programming that goes on both in and outside of this sweet space, provided to visitors by a very excellent and welcoming staff.

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The West End branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Those of you who only know the West End as that place at the end of the West End bridge as you leave Heinz Field, would be surprised to know of all the library activity that goes on in that neighborhood. Beyond the branch at the corner of Neptune and Wabash are also the offices of the Allegheny County Library Association. Here, county librarians and library advocates work to promote library services around the county. In addition, just next door to the West End branch is the Library Support Center, which houses some great library workers who are responsible for everything from cataloging and labeling the many items that you see on our shelves, to the shipping department responsible for getting those materials out to the city and county libraries.

Here, too, resides the wonderful sorting machine, the staff who attend the machine, and van delivery staff (10 drivers, 1 manager and 8 vans!) – all of which make it possible for your requests to go from one library in the county to another in the matter of just a few days. These special workers are akin to Santa’s elves for the magic they perform in sorting and delivering to your local library that bestseller, DVD or much needed item for your child’s school project. (In 2013 alone, 4,099,800  library items were moved among the 74 libraries served by the shipping center).

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A portion of the magical sorting machine which sorts hundreds of thousands of items a month!

Just beyond the West End, over a hill or two and around a couple of bends (through the hamlet of Elliott – which requires some further research on my part), one eventually gets to the neighborhood of Sheraden not even 2 miles from the West End. Here, the Sheraden Carnegie Library branch (headed by Ian Eberhardt, whom you may have seen on your TV as of late) shares a building and hallway with the Sheraden senior center, tucked away on Sherwood Avenue. Although one of our smaller branches, this location lacks for nothing in terms of programming, and has an extremely welcoming and helpful staff too!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this neighborhood, it is home to what I believe to be one of the most beautiful school buildings in the city of Pittsburgh, Langley K-8. Named for the same Langley of Langley Air Force base fame – Samuel Langley, a 19th c.  Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh) astronomy professor. The school sits high atop a hill in Sheraden, but be careful not to attempt to gaze at this school as you’re making your way through the busy intersection that sits just below, as I have a tendency to do when I’m out that way.

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Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Both of these western neighborhoods, and more specifically, the senior centers that reside nearby to the neighborhood branches welcomed me for some exciting technology programming recently. I’m grateful to the centers, their directors and the fact that these programs opened up new doors and vistas in my daily work. I’m looking to discovering more of our many neighborhoods in the coming year(s) of my outreach and hope to share some more with you in 2015.

Happy New Year!

-Maria J.

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Enter the Secret World of Cirque

Readers tend to have good imaginations.

For example, you may have imagined that there is more to the life of the Library than meets the daylight eye. You have, quite possibly, entertained fantasies of secret rituals and mysterious adventures taking place after the closing chimes have rung and the doors are bolted fast. Perhaps you have daydreamed about the inner worlds of books leaping free of their pages, magicians and their companions (both sweet and sinister) roaming through the stacks, wild and playful, making merry mischief underneath the stars while the city’s mundane citizens sleep.

For one night, and one night only, all of those possibilities will come true. And you can be a part of it! But only if you have a ticket.

Click through to purchase your tickets!

Click through to purchase your tickets!

Experience Cirque

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main (Oakland) 

Friday, October 17 From 7 to 10 pm

This dreamy iteration of our popular after-hours event series ushers you into a world where the lines between reality and fiction blur. Enjoy enchanting performances by Belles Lignes Contortion, The Wreckids, Guy and Zoob, and Mr. A.H. Hastings. Refresh yourself throughout the journey with creative cocktails and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres, or fortify yourself with beer and wine as you face dazzling challenges which include:

  • Glimpses into the future with tarot readings and spirit drawings.
  • Winding your way through a shadowy maze in the Library stacks.
  • Mask making, airbrush tattoos and elegant face art.

Early Bird Ticket Special: $45 per person until October 13
$55 from October 14 until we sell out!
Hors d’oeuvres and three (3) drink tickets included in the ticket price.

Want to bring some of the magic home with you? Our silent auction is your chance to acquire classic card catalogs and other refurbished library furniture, lovingly restored by Team Laminates and Workshop Pgh. Raffle tickets will also be available for other mystical treasures and cunning prizes–visit the auction page for full details.

Great treasure and magical adventures await in the shadowy world of the after-dark Library. Will we see you there?

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–Leigh Anne

Note: After Hours @ the Library supports the day-to-day operations of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. For tax purposes, the fair market value of the refreshments and entertainment for the event is $25. The tax-deductible portion of each ticket is the cost of the ticket, less $25.

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Us vs Them: or, a Rust Belt Sibling Rivalry

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My regular late summer visit home to Cleveland was this past weekend with its requisite must do’s of each visit – family, friends, food, and cultural or sporting event. I’ve been living in Southwest PA nearly as long as I lived in Northeast Ohio, and the one constant over those many years has been the comments (some positive, but most not) from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors regarding the “other” city. If they only knew that each is more alike than not, and both cities have such great assets that citizens of each city should be eager to explore, and easy to do with such a relatively short drive down the respective turnpikes. And so I thought it high time that I point out some of the greatness of each city:

FOOD

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Who doesn’t need to eat, and make that part of any trip? Both cities have wonderful ethnic neighborhoods highlighting the melting pot aspects of each of these Rust Belt cities. Cleveland’s Little Italy  neighborhood near the cultural center of  University Circle, which hosted its annual “Feast” celebration this past weekend, is not to be outdone by Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, nor is Polish Hill and the pierogies produced throughout Pittsburgh to be outdone by Cleveland’s Slavic Village and those specialty foods produced by the hearts and hands of Northeastern Ohioans. And while Clevelanders have the historic West Side Market to make their purchases of specialty meats, cheeses, produce and more, Pittsburghers are able to stroll the streets of their historic Strip District and stop in to make purchases at the likes of Salem’s, Wholey’s, and Penn Mac.

Hot Sauce Williams is a must stop in Cleveland for lovers or ribs, and soul food specialties, but in Pittsburgh you have to do a little bit more digging to fill your craving for mac and cheese or greens and other soul food favorites. Cleveland, and more specifically my childhood neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, boasts famous chefs in residence (Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and James Beard award winning Douglas Katz). Pittsburgh has many of its own top chefs in the local restaurant world… including James Beard contenders and winners Justin Severino, Kevin Sousa and Trevett Hooper to name only a few… where it will just be a matter of time before many of these become nationally known food stars.

SPORTS

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Now, be honest, we must all agree that Pittsburgh has a bit of a leg up on this topic with the many championships achieved by the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins throughout the decades (brought to light in the very excellent Heinz History Center’s Sports Museum), but Clevelanders have something Pittsburghers don’t – a professional basketball team.With the return of basketball’s prodigal son whose name shall still remain nameless among many of my Cleveland family and friends, it may be soon that Cleveland will be able to crow about a being a city of champions.

WATER

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Pittsburgh has three rivers, which come together at “The Point”,  and the spectacular bridge architecture and terrain that goes along with those geographic features. Cleveland, on the other hand has a river (which no longer burns!) and a Great Lake, complete with beaches, marinas and fresh walleye. A trip along the Mon or Allegheny is just as enjoyable as a boat ride along “north coast” beaches and down the Cuyahoga River, famous for having caught on fire back in 1969, as well as having a beer and festival named after it.

CULTURE

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Two rust belt cities only 2.5 hours from each other are so fortunate to have world class orchestras, not to mention museums of art housing some of the greatest works of art from world renowned artists (one of which is free to get in!) Pittsburgh has a wonderful children’s museum, both cities have fun science centers, Pittsburgh can claim the wildly eclectic Warhol Museum and Mattress Factory, while Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh’s contribution to the jazz world might be a surprise to outsiders, but with names like Eckstine and Strayhorn as part of the musical fabric of this town, this particular musical genre puts a plus in Pittsburgh’s column.  And neither city lacks multiple options for live theater venues for fans of Broadway, off Broadway, and home grown productions.

And of course…LIBRARIES

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What kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t mention the plethora of FREE resources available to residents of both cities and their surrounding suburbs through their local public library system!? For those of you here in Pittsburgh, the city has 19 neighborhood branches for you to visit via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and if that’s not enough the entire county of Allegheny boasts a total of 70 library locations! Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are equally rich in their public library offerings –from the downtown branch on Superior Avenue to the outlying community libraries in Euclid, Beechwood, Berea and more.

Beyond the spectacular architecture of many of the original Carnegie libraries, many branches in both cities boast special collections worth the trip out of your own neighborhood. The A.C. Free Library in Carnegie, PA has a special collection of Civil War memorabilia for all you history buffs, and speaking of history, the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA was the first Carnegie Library in the United States! The Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library system’s historic Walker & Weeks building is home to a large circulation collection, special collections and the Eastman Reading Garden, which is home to a fantastic collection of public art. And CPL’s Main branch even has a drive up window!

Now, before you start commenting below, I know that I left out A LOT of other assets both cities have to offer (alternative music scene, green space, urban agriculture, educational institutions, public transit, brew pubs, and more), but I’m going to leave those for you to discover and share with your favorite naysayer when you make your trip up to Cleveland or down to Pittsburgh, because I know you will after reading this, AND I know that you will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that these siblings are more alike than not!

-Maria J. (proud to claim both cities as “home”)

(all images courtesy of Google Image search)

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Summer Reading!

The summer solstice, which for those of us in Pittsburgh occurs tomorrow morning at 6:51 a.m., is the official kickoff of my favorite season. I love just about everything summer related. It can never be too hot or steamy for my tastes — maybe because I was born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the snake – once the temperatures climb above 70 degrees, I immediately crawl out from under the dark and cold of winter and spring, and head out to bask upon my summer rock — preferably with a good book.

For me, summer means fresh fruit, popsicles, sunshine, an explosion of vegetables in the garden, trips to a local watering hole (pool or pond or Great Lake), but mostly the leisure to read in a lounge chair in the sun of the backyard or the shade of the front porch. Summer reading has always been a big part of my life, ever since I was a young girl participating in the various summer reading programs at the (now closed) Caledonia branch of the East Cleveland Public Library. I would race to the new book display every time I visited that library, grabbing hungrily at as many of the fresh titles I could carry and hurrying to the circulation desk with cardboard library card in hand. I can still sense the cool and quiet of that library on a summer day, and I can even still smell those books that I used to bring home. Nancy Drew, Henry Huggins, The Great Brain, Betsy, Tacy & Tib, Harriet the Spy, and Lois Lenski’s cast of characters — all became my new found friends during those lazy days of my childhood summers.

Caledonia Library Circulation Clerk, Ms. Debrah Smith, c1978

Caledonia Library Circulation Clerk, Ms. Debrah Smith, c1978, courtesy of the  East Cleveland Public Library

From those early days of beloved chapter books, to the later years in which I had summer reading lists to attack for high school and college, to having my own children participate in our suburban Pittsburgh summer reading programs — libraries and summers have always gone hand in hand for me,  just like kick-the-can and ice-cream trucks.

In the world of books and reading, summertime also means that there’s no end to the “summer reading guides” on just about every website, in every magazine, newspaper and blog post — those lists that suggest “good beach reads” or your favorite author’s summer vacation reading choices. Thus, I feel it my duty as a librarian and bibliophile that I add to those lists, because as is the mantra in our house, you can never have, nor read, too many books! So I thought I’d share with you the “Maria J.’s Family” summer reading list. You might see some old favorites or discover new loves from this list. It’s not meant to be exceptional in any way — it’s just what’s happening in our household this summer, reading-wise. So, get out to your favorite neighborhood library, grab a few titles and pull up your favorite rock or lounge chair to enjoy your summer reads!

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W.J. – age 13 — Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murder’s, and Murder on the Orient Express; Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker.


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A.J. — age 17 — Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring; Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption; Robert Dallek’s Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy Whitehouse.

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Mr. J. — Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Page duBois’ A Million and One Gods: the Persistence of Polytheism; Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue ; Roger Housden’s Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

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Maria J. — Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England; Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food; Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants.

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– Maria J.

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Keepin’ Cozy in the Library

Over the last few months I’ve stumbled onto a writer of cozy mysteries that I quite like. The particular series that has grabbed my attention is the Library Lover’s Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay. I think the thing that initially drew me to this series (other than it being a cozy, which I unashamedly love, and it being about libraries, which I also unashamedly love), is the sheer amount of books that McKinlay writes. In addition to the Library Lover’s mysteries (which currently has four books in it), Jenn McKinlay also wrote the ‘Good Buy Girls’ series (containing three books) as Josie Belle, the Decoupage Murder mysteries (YES! Decoupage mysteries!!! another three books there) as Lucy Lawrence, the Hat shop Mysteries (two books in this one), and the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries (which includes six books). That’s 18 books over five different series, and STILL COUNTING. McKinlay is still writing and has no plans to stop anytime soon (And just to be clear, this is just her mystery output. Before being a successful mystery writer she was a struggling romance writer who did succeed in getting a few of those published, too!).
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I picked up Books Can be Deceiving, which is the first in the Library Lover’s series and I was hooked. It has many of the hallmarks of a contemporary cozy mystery (it has no blood and gore, no explicit language or explicit sex, it features a sleuth who is an amateur at crime solving and heavily relies on her hobby or profession, and has a great cast of characters to serve the need to character development and quick-paced plots). Before I knew it I was getting into the second book in the series (Due or Die) and I was loving it as well. This is a solid cozy series and I’m getting into the third (Book, Line and Sinker) next.

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The often maligned cozy mystery can be a really good time. There is a certain escapism to the genre, certainly; however, when it’s coupled with good writing the reading experience is not only fun, but enjoyable on another level as well. I urge you find a cozy that speaks to you! Maybe it’s one that features a job or hobby that you share with the sleuth. It’s a great way to get involved in a genre you might not be familiar with. I never expected to be a fan of these kinds of books, but I am! Try something mystery based. Branch out. You might find you really enjoy it!

Eric (keepin’ it cozy in 2014)

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Missing Books, (by accident)

Working at a library can have some major benefits…especially if you are a book person. One of the many benefits that I’ve found is the exposure to books that I normally wouldn’t hear about in my day-to-day. The plus is also that, being surrounded by books and DVDs and CDs, sometimes these things literally just cross your path by pure happenstance.

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The book! From the Author’s website.

 

One such book for me is The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom. This is a mystery, but it doesn’t really fit into the accepted categories for mysteries. It’s by no means hard-boiled, and it’s not exactly cozy. (In full disclosure, I love cozy mysteries and I’ve even written about them on this blog!) Sansom’s book lives somewhere in between. I like that.

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The Author! From the Publisher’s website. (Harper)

 

As the title indicates, the crime is a heist, not a murder, and the unwilling sleuth is a librarian named Israel Armstrong who is charged by his brand new employers, to find some 15,000 missing library books. (Also in full disclosure, I wanted to read this book after reading the description!) So, we have no murder, no cats, and the sleuth is a man…not exactly cozy fodder. Did I mention that it’s set in Northern Ireland and our librarian sleuth arrives from London for the job? That probably sealed the deal for me wanting to look into this book.

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The Author, a dog, and a VW minibus. (culled from a Google image search)

 

I’m glad I did. It’s funny. VERY funny. Very uncomfortably, awkwardly funny (think the first season of the original BBC series The Office).  It’s also well written. It also reads very quickly. I am, what I believe to be, one of the slowest readers on the planet. That said, I tore through this quickly. Again, I think it’s due to Sansom being quite a good writer.

Add to all of this the fact that Sansom has created a cast of interesting, quirky, memorable characters that are a bit more than you’d expect, and you have a winner. Much like other books that fall into the “better than it needs to be” category, Sansom’s writing and characterizations give the reader much more to work with than one might expect. His ability to balance the elements of his fiction are not lost here. It’s a real pleasure to read a piece of so-called genre fiction that is so well crafted. There are plenty of cases where the skill of the writer is not evident in fiction like this, and it’s a fantastic treat to find a case where it is present.

I devoured the first in this series and I am looking forward to getting into the second. Here’s to finding a new writer by total accident, and here’s to finding a new series by the same wonderful accident.

Eric (who is eagerly awaiting the next book in this series, and the next amazing author and book he’s never  even heard of yet)

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