Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Peter, Don't Call Me, For I Can't Go

I owe my soul to the library fines department!

OK, maybe not quite, but it's a fair bit of money. In my defense, they never told me that one of my books was a seven-day book. I didn't look at the receipt because, well, it just didn't occur to me. Those are ALWAYS marked, and the book in question (the last one I reviewed, actually) has been out for at least a year. It should have been off 7-day status by now. It doesn't explain why I kept the others so long. I guess because I tend to pick my books really impulsively, and often wind up with things that, upon further reflection, I'm not actually interested in reading.

It makes me tempted to quit going to the downtown branch, even though it is glorious. It's so stressful, too. Limited parking. Massive selection. And always, at least one person who's really, really weird. But there's no other convenient destination around me. The branch within easy walking distance has a Spanish-language focus, and their selection of English books is about as good as the selection of Spanish books at most other branches in the system. Everyone says great things about the branch on Elmwood, which is the next closest. But those people must have different tastes than me. I was unimpressed with their selection. Plus, it smells musty and chemical-y in there, like plastic dust jackets offgassing in the hot sun for thirty years. And additionally, their parking sucks even worse than the downtown branch. There's an adorable little branch a couple of miles away -- that's closed to the public due to asbestos issues.

I guess there's nothing for it but to continue hanging on to my quarters, scrape up an extra $30 to pay off my fines, and keep going to the downtown branch. My only other option is to continue to re-read The Poisonwood Bible and Burmese Days forever (I guess I'm in a post-colonial mood lately, go figure.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Animus in the Inanimate

For over a year now, I've been trying to get a hold of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book. I finally got a hold of it, and it was well worth the wait.

Inanimate objects do have lives of their own. They need certain conditions to continue to "live:" generally a temperature of about 68-70 degrees, a relative humidity of about 60%, not too much light, not too many harsh chemicals, just like a person. They have meaning and experience attached to them. Anyone who's ever participated in distributing someone's belongings after the person has died knows this. The jealousy and sniping surrounding your grandmother's silverware didn't originate with the fact that everyone had been using their fingers thus far. The silver represented family dinners long past, their great-grandfather carving the meat thirty years ago, the hopes and dreams of the young couple that received it as a wedding gift and the life they made together. That power of objects is what led me into the museum field. So, of course, I loved this book.

I also enjoy reading any book that depicts the museum field at all. It's kind of an invisible field. I'd imagine conservators feel even more invisible, and must have enjoyed the main character of the book. Hannah Heath is an Australian book conservator with a PhD, an international reputation, and a contentious relationship with her mother. She gets an invitation to work on a very special book: The Sarajevo haggadah, a lushly illuminated 500-year-old Jewish prayer book.

The story of the book unfolds as Hannah's work progresses. Through the examination of a wine and blood stain, we find how the haggadah was saved from the Inquisition. Through the examination of a salt stain, we discover how the family of a Jewish illustrator was not so lucky. By looking at different items found within the book's binding, we learn how the book was put together and lovingly preserved through hundreds of years of unrest and violence.

The characters are powerful, and the story compelling. I highly reccomend this one, and look forward to reading some more by Brooks.