I love good writing. It almost doesn’t matter what the book is about. If it’s good writing, it’s worth reading. The more obscure the better because then you learn something in the process.
I just finished Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas. It is a memoir about life as a librarian in the Anaheim Public Library. Sounds like a barnburner, doesn’t it? Well, it’s surprisingly funny. Douglas wrote for McSweeney’s so you know he’s a good writer. The book is really about human nature…and the assorted humans one comes in contact with when you work in a public library. Here’s an excerpt. Scott is opening the library when a homeless man comes up to him:
I think the first clue that the man was going to be a problem was when he said to me, “I want to know who took my generator. Was it you?” This was actually the first thing he said to me. It wasn’t just what he said or even the hostile way he said it that made me know that this was going to be one of the conversations they didn’t teach you how to handle in library school — it was everything about him. They way he moved — fidgeted, rather — told me right away that he had had the sort of breakfast that destroys brain cells.
The man becomes convinced that Scott has stolen his generator. Then, as if to bring up a totally different topic, he asks Scott, “Where is your car parked?” The man thinks Scott has stashed the generator in his trunk. Scott won’t tell him where his car is parked. This does not stop the man:
“It’s in the parking lot, isn’t it?”
So now the man thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes, I thought, amused. A car parked in the parking lot–who would have ever guessed?
As it turned out, the generator was hidden in the bushes exactly where the man left it.
I love his stories like this because it reminds me of all the, uh, colorful people I’ve encountered in the various cities in which I’ve lived. And I enjoyed the book because I once considered librarian as a career choice. Well, a job choice. I’ve always viewed writing as my real career. I applied for two jobs at the Denver Public Library. One as a shelver. I didn’t get either. Plus I’ve spent many hours of my life at the Denver Public Library. This book allowed me to see it from another dimension though I can’t say anything he talked about shocked me. The downtown Denver library seems to be a magnet for the crazies, the homeless, the generally down and out — and a few book readers.
It’s hard to find a book that is simply a good read even though it’s on some oddball subject. But it’s fun when you do find such a book. They are a pleasure to read and they make trudging through a pile of lesser books tolerable.