February 23, 2012

In which I have a “connection” at the library

It’s not every day that the library assistant gets to turn the question back on her patrons: “Do you have a recommendation?” But that’s just what I did a few weeks ago at work. I asked fifteen unsuspecting library goers and one book drop if they could recommend a book to me for the eighth round of my Year of Reading at Your Mercy. Fourteen of them answered me. Here is what they wanted me to read:

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, picked by a woman named Margaret
  • Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts, picked by a man named Donald
  • Evergreen by Belva Plain, picked by a woman named JoAnn
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, picked by my friend Honor, who happened to bring my godson Cal to Baby Bookworms at the library that Friday! (She’s picked this book twice now. It must be amazing.)
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, picked by a woman named Karen
  • The French Connection by Robin Moore, picked by a man named Kevin
  • 1491 by Charles C. Mann, picked by a woman named Shirley
  • V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton, picked by one of of our former adult volunteers, Jonna
  • The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, picked by our teen volunteer Robbie’s mom, Tanya
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, picked by our stellar teenage volunteer, Robbie, himself (He had no idea his mom had also picked a C.S. Lewis.)
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, picked by one of our most notoriously well-read regulars, Gail
  • Born of Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, picked by one of our adult volunteers, Tracy
  • Washed in the Blood by Lisa Alther, picked by a woman named Janice, who comes every Friday to gather books for her grandchildren
  • One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, plucked from the book drop for me by my dear coworker, Penny

Flight of the Intruder
Oryx and Crake
The French Connection
"V" is for Vengeance
The last battle
The Night Circus
Born of the Night
Washed in the blood
One thousand white women

I don’t know why it was surprising, but the process of asking my own library patrons for recommendations was the most entertaining “polling” so far, perhaps because most of them, as library users, were happy to talk books and to be asked about their own reading—and perhaps because I had other library staff available with whom I could discuss the picks all day long. (These “other library staff” may or may not have been as entertained as I was by said “discussing.”) Anyway, at the end of the work day, I asked Robbie, who recommended Mere Christianity (above), to pull a slip from my hat. And the slip read: The French Connection.

Kevin, who recommended The French Connection, was actually checking out the (Academy Award Winning!) movie of the same title at the time, because our system doesn’t own the book. He came back several days later, when I was almost finished reading the book. When I told him I’d drawn his pick, he winced and said he should have chosen differently. He was reading it too and worried it was boring me. To the contrary, I enjoyed The French Connection. It tells the true story of how two detectives and their cross-agency team brought down an international mafia-related heroine ring in New York City in the early 1960s. Like my previous read, it is a story in which New York City itself is a character. I have never read true crime before, and I like this book much better than the crime documentaries or police procedural dramas I’ve seen on TV. The characters of Eddie and Sonny, the aforementioned detectives, are what hook me into the story—through all the seemingly endless tailings of greasy mafia men and glamorous French womanizers. I think Kevin must have found all this tailing tedious, and it was, but I kept with it because I wanted these two men to finish what they’d started.

Eddie and Sonny are like fictional characters—that’s how real they are in the book. It seems strange thing to say it, but I think real people often seem flatter in non-fiction than fictional characters seem in made up tales. Perhaps this is because, so often, their stories are connected to a much larger historical whole, and their actions and assumed motives are recounted almost like events. But here we have a story smaller in scope, a quest-like story, and Eddie and Sonny breath its life into it just like Frodo and Sam breath life into The Lord of the Rings. (OK. Maybe not just like… although Eddie and Sonny can hold their liquor as well as any hobbit.) I haven’t read a whole lot of character-driven nonfiction, so perhaps most of it works like this, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I remember being surprised at how real these real-life men felt to me after only the first page.

I enjoyed discovering the details of how detectives worked in the 1960s. I enjoyed riding along with Eddie and Sonny and with the bad guys at times too. The events don’t wrap into a bow at the end, because this is, after all, non-fiction, but I can hardly complain about that. Now, I should really watch the movie. I hear it has a fictional car chase in it. Lord knows I spent enough time inside cars while reading the book.

On an aside, I’ll admit to almost cheating on this pick. When Robbie pulled this slip out of my hat, I was disappointed. I’d been rooting for The Night Circus, which has been calling to me for months, and I had no clue what The French Connection was about. The library doesn’t own it and it isn’t available on the Kindle, so I almost let myself give in and read another book. I’m running behind after all. I can’t wait two whole days for Amazon Prime to get the book to my doorstep! I asked Tracy, our other volunteer, to draw another slip from the hat. She pulled out The Last Battle. I’ve read it before, but it’s been so long it fits the rules of my challenge. I was all set to read some C.S. Lewis, and then the guilt set in. I ordered The French Connection from Amazon before I had time to change my mind. I’m glad I did.

I must say that the cover display above really does remind me of a day at the branch. It’s such an accurate representation of what kinds of books users typically check out on any given day.