Do you remember me? I’m your public librarian! I walked you over to the Murakami that time. I helped you get the DVD about exploring New Zealand and you came back and told me about how wonderful your trip was and we both got tears in our eyes.
I know all of you—because librarians love getting to know their communities.
But as close as my connection is to all of you, your literary preferences and Internet habits, there is a population I know even more intimately: the stacks. Librarians aren’t just reading while we’re sitting at the reference desk. We curate the collection by providing a fine balance of items patrons need to be well-rounded (poetry, Consumer Reports) and items they request that we buy (more seniors’ yoga on VHS). We also decide when a book is no longer needed and has to be “released”. Professionally, we call this process “weeding” the collection. Personally, I call it “book breakups.”
I know books on a deep level. So deep that, over the years, I’ve found myself talking to the books. I talk to them in letter form, because books are fancy and need to be formally addressed. It used to be just at the library, while I was weeding or when I would come across an old friend—I mean, book. But now I seem to do it every time I look at a bookshelf.
And why shouldn’t I talk to books? I’ve got a lot to say to them.
Dear The Goldfinch: ‘I’m not saying you won the Pulitzer because of me, but you may want to think about adding a name in the acknowledgments’
We’ve grown apart. Or, I guess, you’ve grown apart. Like, physically. Your spine is torn to crap. The hardest part about this? I’m the one who did it to you. I love you so much, Goldfinch. Your language, your emotion, your suspense. Needless to say, the author picture on your back cover is the main reason I started parting my hair down the middle.
So I recommended you to everyone. I broke the Librarian’s Reader’s Advisory Code, which is to base your reading suggestions for a patron on their previous preferences, not my own. I broke it for you, Finchy. I recommended you to folks checking out Sylvia Browne dead-people-talking books and patrons asking where the Amish fiction was shelved and people who told me the last book they enjoyed was Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which is, sadly, every third adult male who comes into the library.
I’m not saying you won the Pulitzer because of me, but you may want to think about adding one more name in the acknowledgments when the next edition comes out.
Unfortunately, your hard exterior couldn’t protect you from the reality of the world outside these shelves. It was bound to happen. You’re nearly eight hundred pages. And about a gazillion people cracked you open. Eventually, you cracked too. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have sent you home with people who are used to reading mass-market paperbacks. That’s something I have to live with.
I know you are a book that only feels fulfilled when being read and admired. You’d be too ashamed to sit next to your other copies as busted up as you are, and there’s nothing book glue can do for you now. I’m taking you home with me. You’ll sit right next to your old pal The Little Friend, on a browser-friendly shelf above the record player where my friends will look at you with great reverence before declining to borrow you because they are too busy to read (I know, they’re fools). I’m the only one who truly knows you well enough to notice how fragile you are on the inside.
No one but you and I will ever see the duct tape holding you together or the discard stamp on your title page. I promise you that.
Seriously Forever Yours,
Dear Anna Karenina: ‘I tried, I really did’
I feel like I don’t even know you. Maybe that’s why I find it so difficult to say: I’ve been seeing someone else.
I’m sorry. I know I’ve led you on. I asked my friends about you. I checked you out more than once. You came home with me. You stayed for a month! But while you were on my coffee table, looking so earnest and so very long, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was in my bed. And then some Megan Abbott mysteries. And then Dolly Parton’s autobiography. Twice.
I tried, I really did. Once, I even picked you up and held you. I kept you on my lap while I watched The Bachelor. And you made me feel better. Like I wasn’t just some faceless citizen of Bachelor Nation. I read Russian literature! I thought to myself. I’m just smugly observing this show until the next commercial, when I will begin my scholarly analysis. But then I kept watching through “After the Final Rose.”
Anna, I don’t have one unkind word to say about you— because I haven’t read you. Perhaps, it’s just not our time.
There will come a day, probably, when I get a hankering for a bleak 864-page novel translated from Russian. But until that day, back to the shelves you go.
I tried to look up “goodbye” in Russian, but it’s really hard to spell. So, just—
Dear Miss Marple series: ‘Who would have thought a gossipy spinster from St. Mary Mead could bring us all together?’
I just want to thank you for being there for me. Everybody loves you. Seriously, everybody. I mean, people who like mysteries—duh. But also, did you know that truckers love you? You guys on audio are like a gateway drug to reading for truckers. Also, kids who read way above their grade level and are bored with everything in the children’s section. And teens with helicopter parents who want to make sure they aren’t reading novels with sex in them (as a rule, murder in a book is a-okay with these folks). And millennials love you because they picture your main character as Mrs. Doubtfire.
You make my job so much easier on days when I spend the better part of an hour with a patron, placing stacks of books in front of them, shelling out the “If You Like” bookmarks like it’s my job (which it is) and presenting each tome to a frowning face.
“Something historical. No, that’s too historical.”
“I definitely want death, but don’t necessarily want to read about anyone dying.”
“I’d like to be intrigued, but not confused.”
And then, like a clammy grandmotherly hand gently smacking my cheek, your name comes to me. You are popular enough that everyone has heard of you, old enough that at least one of you is always available on the shelves. You’re sassy enough for a chortle, and well-mannered enough that you won’t offend church ladies or parents who monitor every library book their child checks out, apparently unaware of Snapchat. You can be read in any order. You’re clever in an “oh yoooou” kind of way that doesn’t make your readers feel dumb. And you’re a “cozy” series that is also well written—the romping unicorn of the Mystery section.
They’ll always choose you. Even the ladies that are mad at me because the Jodi Picoult book they want is still checked out and they are making me pick out other, not-as-good books for them as punishment.
Who would have thought a gossipy spinster from St. Mary Mead could bring us all together? Sometimes, I wonder if the library could get by on a collection that was just you, A Child Called It, The Five Love Languages, and some Rick Steve travel DVDs. Honestly, I think we’d make it at least a week before someone complained. But you’re my favorite, Miss M. My good-time gal.
Dear Grey – Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian: ‘Now I have to explain to a little old lady what erotica is’
Whhhhyyyyy do people keep asking me if I’ve read you? Aren’t you the same book as the last one of you I said I didn’t want to read?
But nobody cares! They can’t get enough of you. They read your first version. They’ll read you. And in between they will have no desire to read anything else. It’s like, without you, they would just rather be illiterate. It makes me want to shake readers and scream: YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY GREAT LITERATURE AND THIS ISN’T EVEN THAT DIRTY! I want to clothe Pablo Neruda poetry with your jacket and hand that out to patrons. And I don’t care what you think, Greeeey. Your silk tie/anal bead sweet talk, or whatever it is you’re saying to get on top of people’s nightstands, isn’t going to work on me.
Today yet another person asked me about you: “Have you heard of a book called Grey? It’s like Fifty Shades of Grey, but from a Christian’s perspective?”
So on top of having to politely smile when people say to me, “You’re bookish, I’ve got one you’ll love!,” now I have to explain to a little old lady who only reads Karen Kingsbury novels what erotica is and watch her pretend to put it back and then pick it up again when I’m pretending not to look.
You made me say “erotica” to an old lady, Grey! I’m going to hate you forever for that.
I’m putting you out on the curb where you belong, and I hope someone drops you in the bubble bath they are sitting in when they read you.
Dear Matilda: ‘You made me feel like anything was possible’
I’ve wanted to write to you for so long. Since I was just a kid—before I had the right words to tell you how much I loved your dark humor, or thank you for making a bookish girl like me the hero of a story, or tell you that I still think of Hortensia every time I see someone mowing down a bag of greasy potato crisps. I’ve always wanted to write to you, but I never did. The truth is, I grew up. And now that I’m finally taking the time, I’m afraid this must be a very different kind of letter.
It’s time for us to part, Matilda. Someone stole a few of your pages. Or, more likely, they fell out—you are frail and your complexion has darkened with age. The part of you missing includes the introduction of Miss Trunchbull, an essential piece in your narrative. Without all of your story held together, you’re not making much sense.
Maybe your pages have slipped behind a bedside table or been muddied on the floor of a school bus. You’ve been inside the backpacks and under the beds and in the grubby hands of over fifty “precocious” children, as Miss Honey would say.
I wish I could give you to fifty more, but it seems we’ve run our course.
You were my first big chapter book. I saw myself in you. I wasn’t spunky like Pippi Longstocking or mischievous like Ramona Quimby. I was shy and shabby, with my head in the clouds and in the books. A Matilda. You made me feel like anything was possible. When I was with you, I felt like I could move things with my mind! Yes, I strayed to other books and maybe left you lonely. Spontaneous thrills with The Boxcar Children. Talking dirty with Judy Blume. But I always loved you, Matilda. I never wanted it to be this way.
There will be other copies of you here, of course. But none with the original cover like you. The others have brighter colors and Matilda is standing on top of the books or waving her arms, demanding attention. Not sitting quietly, thoughtfully scratching her chin and contemplating how to punk her parents.
For me, it won’t be the same if your cover isn’t a little bit raggedy, your pages crumpled, an illustration of Mr. Wormwood’s checkered jacket outlined in wobbly pen. The library will be a little different without you.
And I’m a little different because of you. And I’m grateful for it.
Dear Just Kids: ‘My husband is jealous of you. I can’t blame him – I am too’
A quick note. I’m so smitten with you, I can’t help but pick you up when I’m waiting for tea to boil or brushing my teeth. And especially in bed. Actually, in bed is where the trouble begins.
My husband is jealous of you. I can’t blame him—I am too. You’re a delicate portrayal of two artists, equally hungry for food and fame, coursing through the veins of 1970s NYC. Sometimes, your hero and heroine are on top of the world. Sometimes, they live in a dump. Always, they have style. Always, they love each other. I want to be there with them! But Michael wants me here. I’ve been reading you in all of my spare moments. I haven’t heard a word he’s said to me for two days.
Now the hubs and I have got a pizza-and-movie-in-bed date planned (that’s bohemian, right?), and I need to put you down.
Patti’s love for Robert is palpably tender, and her love for art as wide as the sky. Your description of their youth leaves me with a lingering daydreamer’s feeling—probably not going to last long ’cause we’re watching Smokey and the Bandit. Sigh. What we do for love, right, Kids?
Now isn’t the time for us. We’ll have to take our affair elsewhere. I’ll meet you in the break room at work. I’ll be the one in the corner holding, well, you.