Transcript / SSoP Podcast Episode 15 — The Library: Endless Books, Reading Nooks, and Lots of Possibility

Transcript / SSoP Podcast Episode 15 — The Library: Endless Books, Reading Nooks, and Lots of Possibility

Monday, 21 September, 2020

This is a transcription of Episode 15 — The Library: Endless Books, Reading Nooks, and Lots of Possibility.

David: Hello, welcome to Strong Sense of Place. I’m David Humphreys.

Melissa: I’m Melissa Joulwan. In each episode, we explore one destination through the pages of five books we love.

David: We search for books that are readable, engaging, opinionated, and tell you about the best.

Melissa: Fiction and non, contemporary and classic. These books help us understand the world and our place in it.

David: We’re on a trip around the globe, one great read at a time. Thanks for joining us.

[cheerful theme music]

David: Welcome to Episode 15 of Strong Sense of Place. I hope you’re doing well, thanks for bringing us into your life today. We are going to get curious about the library. We’re going to talk about five books that took us to the library. And we’re going to talk to Frank Collerius, who manages the Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library. Libraries are awesome.

Melissa: Libraries are universally awesome.

David: One of the ideas I read in one of my books is we are always in the library looking for ourselves.

Melissa: Oh, that’s really nice. When I was preparing for this show, I was thinking about my experiences with libraries. And I grew up in a very small town that did not have a library until I was about maybe 10 or 11. It was in the downtown, which I think probably gives people the wrong idea about what my town was like to say, It had a downtown. But it was on the main square of the town. Our town had one traffic light and it was a blinker. It wasn’t a full stoplight. I vividly remember roller skating down to the library in my blue-and-yellow Sears sneaker skates and this orange terrycloth ’70s robe that I had taken from my mom because I really liked it and I would wear it over my jeans —

David: To look cool —

Melissa: And go to the library. On my super cool sneaker skates. The library was in a house that had been converted to kind of a storefront. So it was one room. I would take out as many books as I could carry. And the ones that I remember most vividly are a book on algebra because I was really bad at math. I got it in my head that I was going to work my way through this book and teach myself algebra because I didn’t like being bad at it. And a biography of Harriet Tubman, which I read multiple times.

Melissa: I never did learn algebra, but the thing that I loved about that then and still do is that the library to me is a possibility. You can be interested in anything and find it. And nobody is peeking over your shoulder to see if you’re looking at the weird math books or what embarrassing thing you might be looking up. It’s a very neutral place to find information. And that’s pretty fantastic.

David: It is.

David: So are you ready to do the one on one for libraries?

Melissa: I am.

David: What have you got?

Melissa: OK! The earliest known library dates back to about 5000 years ago. It was discovered in the 1970s in Ebla, which is now part of Syria. And it was a cache of clay tablets that were written in cuneiform script.

David: So it’s way, way back there, ancient history.

Melissa: Which brings me to my next point. We don’t have the bandwidth in the intro to this podcast to trace the whole history of libraries. As much as I would like to do that because it is really fascinating. So what I’m going to do instead is try to give some highlights of the things that really jumped out at me. And I know one of the books you are talking about talks about the history of libraries. Between the two of us, hopefully, we’ll present enough of a picture that we can embrace how awesome libraries have been throughout history.

Melissa: The oldest known library that is still in existence and still functioning. We talked about when we talked about Morrocco, it is the Al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco. It’s part of the oldest continuously operating university in the world and was founded in 859.

David: Wow.

Melissa: To give you some idea about just how old that is: the library was being built around the same time that algebra, which was also a Muslim invention. That’s when algebra was making its way to Europe really long time ago. The other thing that I found very exciting about this is that the library was founded by a woman. Her name was Fatima Al-Fihri, and she was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. I can only assume she was probably described as uppity a lot because she was —

David: in whatever the local parlance for that was —

Melissa: Yeah, she was really interested in education. When she inherited her father’s money, she built a university, a mosque and a library.

David: Just based on that she sounds like a fascinating person you’d want to get to know.

Melissa: Exactly. This is what happens when we do research for the show. Then all I want to do is spend the day learning about Fatima, but we have to move on. Let’s all have a second of silence for how awesome Fatma is [pause] and we move on.

Melissa: Now, we’re going to fast forward to the Middle Ages. Libraries were starting to become an important part of the culture, but they were still very firmly associated with religion. The libraries were really happening in monasteries where monks were making handwritten, illuminated manuscripts. These were big, beautiful handmade books and they were attached to the shelves by chains so they couldn’t go wandering.

David: We’re going to talk about that more when I get to my book.

Melissa: Oh, good. I mean, I love the visual image of these big books chained to the shelf, but then they can’t go circulating.

David: ecause books are incredibly valuable at that time. You would literally spend maybe a lifetime copying a book, and you don’t want that to just go walking out the door. So what are you going to do?

Melissa: Having said that, however, at this point, some libraries did allow people to borrow books. The person who was checking out the book had to leave a security deposit in the form of either another book or some money.

David: Or someone they loved.

Melissa: Or their dog. And in fact, in 2012, the Council of Paris condemned monasteries that did not let people check out books and said, ‘Lending books is one of the chief works of mercy.’

David: Oh, wow. That is still true.

Melissa: Agree. OK, so at this point, books were still mainly the province of the educated, which meant wealthy men and men who are in the church. But the invention of the printing press was the beginning of all of that changing. Bookmakers were like, Forget everything you know about books.

David: It’s so true. The printing press changed everything, literally everything in the same way that, like, the Internet changed everything. The printing press touched everything.

Melissa: That’s when we see the rise of math, science, philosophy. They’re still in the hands of mainly rich, educated men. But the subject matter is increasing. The next big innovation was steam power in the 1800s. There was a major upheaval because printing presses could be powered by steam, which made them faster, and it was easy to make paper from wood pulp. So paper got really cheap. Now we see dime novels and fiction in the hands of everyone.

David: And you have an explosion of literacy. A few hundred years before only the wealthy and learned could read. Now you’ve got a much, much stronger base.

Melissa: While the regular people were getting their hands on their trashy novels and their daily newspapers, wealthy people were starting to build up their private libraries. These evolved into the libraries that we go to visit now when we’re traveling and go to see the beautiful, you know, gilt-lined bookshelves. People like J.P. Morgan who started the Morgan Library in New York City. Henry Clay Folger founded the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. His collections started with 70 original Shakespeare folios.

David: Wow. That’s obsessive.

Melissa: Yes. And you can visit that library today. And there’s one in Philadelphia, which I have not visited yet, but has a soft spot in my heart. It’s called The Rosenbach. It’s mentioned in the book The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The last scene of the book takes place in that library because it has Bram Stoker’s original handwritten notes for the novel Dracula. The Rosenbach has really cool programming that’s available online. So if anyone listening is interested in Dracula, the Rosenbach is the place to be.

Melissa: All of these men use their wealth to create these really amazing private libraries. But they also left stipulations that after their death, they would become public. So now they’re museums and research libraries. So… that is a lot of men shaping the history of libraries.

David: Unsurprisingly.

Melissa: But I have some great stories about women.

Melissa: The first American school librarian was Mary Kingsbury. She was born in 1865 in Glastonbury, Connecticut. She went to the school in her hometown and she had plans to go to college. And then her dad decided that a girl didn’t need an education, so she didn’t go to college. She and her sister started a library in their school that was open to the public, but was also meant to be a resource for the students in her school. And then she went to Germany to enhance our language skills. When Mary returned from Germany, she enrolled in the Pratt Institute Library School, and when she graduated, she was described as, ‘The most brilliant member of the most brilliant class ever to be graduated from Pratt.’

David: Wow.

Melissa: Yes, Mary had a big brain. In June of 1900, she started her official librarian duties at the Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn, which was a very well respected school, and her annual salary was $600 a year. She worked there for 31 years until her failing vision forced her to retire. She returned to her hometown and she lived with her sister, with whom she had started the library, until her death at 93 years old. I can only assume she read a whole bunch of really good books.

David: Yeah, and educated a lot of people.

Melissa: And she’s really cute. We have a picture of her on our website, which I will link to in show noes.

Melissa: One more awesome librarian of note before we move on. Belle da Costa Green. She is fascinating. And we could spend an entire podcast talking about her life. She was 26 years old when she met J.P. Morgan and he hired her as the first librarian of the Morgan Library, which was his private library in New York City.

David: Jp Morgan being a really rich man.

Melissa: Yes! This was in 1905, and the amount of authority he gave to her was extraordinary. She was an expert in illuminated manuscripts and she negotiated deals worth millions of dollars, buying and selling rare books and manuscripts and art for the library. He gave her free reign to shape his collection.

David: Wow.

Melissa: The other thing that is worth talking about is that she was black.

David: No kidding.

Melissa: She passed herself off as white, mostly just by omission and not talking about it openly, even though her father was the first black graduate of Harvard University. Also awesome: She was known for always wearing very fashionable feathered hats. And she said, ‘Just because I am a librarian doesn’t mean I have to dress like one.’

David: Wow.

Melissa: So I feel like she probably had a lot of sassy attitude. She worked at the Morgan for 43 years. When the library’s board of trustees was formed, she was the first director.

David: Wow.

Melissa: She’s a powerhouse.The Morgan is now, of course, a museum and library that’s open to the public with amazing events and really, really good exhibitions online. So, of course, we will link to that in show notes. Definitely visit the show notes for this episode, because I’m going to be dumping lots of great links in there because there are so many people who are inspiring and so many details that we just couldn’t get to in the short intro.

David: Are you ready for two truths and a lie?

Melissa: I don’t know. I will do my best.

David: I feel like you do really well at this. I’m going to say three statements. Two of them are true. One of them is not. Mel does not know which one is untrue. Here we go. Statement one: There is a human library. It was founded in Denmark in 2000. You can check out a person.

Melissa: Like a date? [laughing]

David: I’m just going to leave that right there.

David: Number two: There is a book at Yale University’s Beinecke Library that is described as one of the world’s most mysterious books. It is 500 years old, written in an unknown language by three different hands, and is full of strange illustrations. That is all true. Here is the statement: Some experts think it describes an elaborate ancient game.

Melissa: Oh, oh, I want that novel.

David: And three: The first U.S. president, George Washington, had a book that was 221 years overdue.

Melissa: I mean, the human library thing has to be true because that’s too obviously a lie, if it’s a lie. Ridiculous. A human library.

David: No, that’s true. Totally true. It’s called the Human Library. I love this group. There are a non-profit organization. They’re all about increasing empathy. They have a bunch of people who have volunteered to represent a stigmatized group.

Melissa: This is so cool.

David: Yeah, it really is. So it might be somebody who is autistic or an alcoholic or Muslim or homeless or polyamorous or any number of things. You get in touch with the human library and they will set you up with a meeting with that person so you can talk about their experience.

Melissa: That is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

David: Isn’t it amazing? I love that idea. In their 20 years, they’ve done events on six continents and 80 countries. And you can find out more at humanlibrary.org.

Melissa: That is really beautiful. Yeah, I always thought it was really cool that there is a library in Alaska where you can check out taxidermy, but the human library trumps that. Yeah, that’s great.

David: That’s really sweet. OK! That leaves us with the one about the crazy old book that might be a game, and the other one about George Washington having a book that’s 221 years overdue.

Melissa: I think the George Washington thing has to be true, although I don’t really understand how it would be.

David: You are correct.

Melissa: YAY!

David: You’ve done it. So the former president borrowed a book called The Law of Nations, which was an essay on international affairs on the 5th of October 1789 from the New York Society Library. He had been president for about six months by then.

Melissa: So he was maybe a little busy to be reading.

David: I wondered about George’s wisdom because I would think he would have his hands full, but —

Melissa: But even he couldn’t resist going to the library and being, like, That looks good! That looks good! That looks good! I’ll take all of those. I’m sure I’ll have time to read all of them.

David: Right. Yeah. The New York Society Library is the oldest library in New York City. At the time, it was just called the City Library. During the Revolutionary War. They were looted by British soldiers who tore up their books to make wadding for rifles. But anyway, George borrowed the book in 1789. And then in 2010, the library conducted an inventory of books from their 1789 ledger, and they discovered that Washington had never returned the book.

Melissa: A black mark on your permanent record. [laughing]

David: They calculated the fines to be around $300,000. The staff of Mount Vernon found out about it, Washington’s former home, and they offered to replace the book with another copy of the same edition. The offer was accepted. There was a little ceremony and the library waived the fine.

Melissa: Happy ending.

David: Yeah. Finally, the mysterious book.

Melissa: The mysterious book!

David: There’s a book called The Voynich Manuscript . It is 240 pages long. It carbon dates from the early 15th century. Every page contains text in an unidentified language.

Melissa: I love that.

David: There are pictures of plants and suns drawn in the book. There are naked women. There’s a character that looks like a dragon. There’s a castle. There’s a goat. The book contains recipes, pictures of plants. Nobody knows what the purpose of the book is or what it says. I would like it to be a game, but no experts are holding that up. There’s a long article on Wikipedia about the Voynich manuscript and the library itself has high-resolution scans online so you can go look at it. The book has inspired a whole lot of people. Two of the things that I thought were really interesting is: One, there’s a symphony about the book, and two, it is appeared in the crime drama Elementary. Hmm.

Melissa: I love everything about that.

David: That’s Two Truths and Lie. You got it right!

Melissa: I got it right. Those were really good ones. I mean, I feel like I could play Two Truths and a Lie about cool books and libraries all day long.

David: You ready to talk about books?

Melissa: Always.

David: What’s your first book?

Melissa: My first pick is The Weight of Ink by Rachel Caddish. This is a historical novel with two timelines set in London, one in the 1600s and the other in 2000. And each time line features an intelligent, headstrong woman who is devoted to books and learning.

David: Are they uppity?

Melissa: They are uppity! In 1660, Ester Valesquez is our heroine. She’s a Portuguese-Jewish immigrant from Amsterdam, and she is a refugee from the Spanish Inquisition. And she has become a scribe for blind rabbi. This is all extraordinary. Yeah. Her experience getting from Amsterdam to London and the fact that she knows how to write and that as a woman, she is given the job to be a scribe for a rabbi. All very unusual. Also worth noting: the great plague of London is on its way. That happens in 1664. So this is not a good time to be a Londoner, to be Jewish, to be a woman. None of these things are good. And to make matters worse, Ester is very interested in philosophy and learning and super-unfeminine things like thinking for herself.

David: To be fair, it would be hard to track down a time when it was good to be Jewish and a woman.

Melissa: True. We also meet Helen, who is in the modern timeline. She is a British historian who’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and she has a deep love of Jewish history for reasons that we will learn later. She herself is not Jewish, but she’s very interested in the Jewish experience. So as the novel opens, Helen has just been contacted by a former student who found a cache of 17th-century Jewish documents in the wall of his house when he was doing renovations.

David: The best.

Melissa: This is the best kick-off ever. Helen recruits a Jewish-American grad student to be her assistant, and they are going to get to the bottom of who wrote these documents and what they mean. Except there’s another team of researchers who are also trying to solve this mystery. And now they’re in a race to see who is going to win the academic prize of identifying these documents and what they all mean.

David: Does the other team work for an evil corporation?

Melissa: I mean, the subtext is that they’re evil. In the modern timeline, Helen and her assistant spend their time translating documents from Hebrew and Portuguese and archive library. So this is my catnip. They have to check into the library every day. They’re talking to the archive librarians. They’re wearing gloves. They’re arguing about who gets to look at what documents first. Super nerdy. Super awesome. Basically, it made me want to have a reason to translate a document at an archive library. What do I need to do to get permission to go in there and do that?

David: I feel like there are a lot of steps between us now and getting permission to go into an archive library and translate documents. [laughing]

Melissa: I mean, the thing that’s amazing is that anyone can request to go to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, England, and go into their library where they have all kinds of original documentation about the Brontë family. You can use the materials. You just have to let them know you’re coming. That’s pretty amazing.

David: That’s true with most research libraries

Melissa: Some you have to show some form of credentials. But yes, generally, I think it’s not all that difficult if you can make a strong case that you’re not just going in there to, like, fangirl out, I guess, over a piece of paper.

David: Although I suspect some libraries would be just fine with that reason for going. ‘Want to fangirl out.’ Approved! [sound of rubber stamp hitting a table]

Melissa: In Ester’s timeline, back in the 1600s, her love for learning and her thinking is so pure it motivates everything that she does and is the thing that gives meaning to her life. And that devotion to learning is shaping the lives of the people in the 2000 timeline. There is a direct connection between these two women. It’s really cool. It is really refreshing and inspiring to spend time with these two intelligent women who are devoting all of their energy to learning and better understanding themselves.

Melissa: When I was reading this book, and I would put it down to go about the rest of my life, I would wonder what they were doing. [laughter] That’s how real they felt to me. Yeah. And this is one of those books that made me talk out loud to the book sometimes. And there are a few times when I cried, which even though I generally get emotionally involved in the things I’m reading, I don’t usually laugh or cry out loud. And I was fully engaged with this text, yelling at people.

David: Don’t open the door. Don’t open the door! [laughing]

Melissa: Well, I got really angry on Ester’s behalf because people call her unnatural. because she wants to learn, and she’s not interested in being married, and she’s ostracized because she wants to write. She wants to think, she wants to understand the world. She wants more than what is being offered to her. And I got really frustrated and angry on her behalf and it made me really grateful. My dad is a very kind man. Both he and my mom always told me that I could be anything I wanted, I could do anything I wanted. They encouraged me to think for myself, and I’ve always been really grateful for that. But reading this book really drove that point home.

David: Right, to grow up in a house where that isn’t the case, where you are told what you should and shouldn’t be.

Melissa: Yes. Ester reminds me a little bit of Jane Eyre in some respects, because they’re both kind of fighting against the constraints that society is putting on them, even though they’re about 200 years apart. At one point, Esther says, ‘Yet, though, I saw myself straying ever farther from the path laid before me, I cried out then and still. Why say woman may not follow her nature if it lead her to think. For m must not even the meanest beast follow its nature. And why forbid woman or man from questioning what we are taught for is not intelligence holy.’

Melissa: That’s how Esther speaks and thinks. She’s amazing. The final thing I will say about this book is that even though it takes on what I think are really important issues, and it is a grim look at the plague and what was happening with Jewish people at that time in history and what it was like to be a woman then and now — Helen, in the modern timeline is not free of all of the constraints that Esther was — So it’s taking on all these really big issues but it is super entertaining and a page-turner and suspenseful and emotionally engaging. I just loved everything about it. I read it really as fast as I could because I wanted to know what was going to happen. And I’d really like to go back and read it and luxuriate in the language because it’s so well-written.

Melissa: That is The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish.

David: Ok! My first book is The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski. I should mention that this book was recommended by one of our listeners. Thank you, Rebecca, for mentioning it!

Melissa: Tight on, Rebecca.

David: Henry Petroski is a civil engineering professor at Duke University, and you might know him from the book you wrote on the pencil.

Melissa: Oh, yeah, I know that book.

David: Yeah, it’s called The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. He’s done other works like this where he takes a seemingly mundane item and then traces out its history and its development and design and that kind of thing.

Melissa: Another person who’s very curious about the world.

David: Oh, so curious. This is a book about bookshelves or more accurately, the history of book storage. And if that sounds like book nerdery to you, I can assure you that it totally is. [laughing]

Melissa: Yeah, I’m looking at our bookshelves right now, as you say that.

David: This is a book geek’s book about books. There are extensive footnotes. Dr. Petroski uses the word ‘thus’ a lot. There is an appendix to this book that explores different ways you might sort books.

Melissa: I remember you reading that to me at breakfast one day. It is thorough.

David: It’s impressive. It’s that kind of book. I suspect you might already know if you want to read something like this, just based on that. If you’re OK with a slightly academic tone, this book will take you some places. He starts with scrolls. We find out that judging someone on their bookshelves started in ancient Rome.

Melissa: Of course it did.

David: He reprints a tract from Seneca the Younger who writes about average people collecting scrolls just for show, not for a study. That’s not cool.

Melissa: It’s like interior decorators who say that they specialize in filling your bookshelves. I mean, steam comes out of my ears.

David: I don’t know about you, but I’m proud to be supporting a 2000-year-old tradition.

Melissa: Well, there’s a new thing now. There is a Twitter account which I will link to in show notes that judges people’s bookshelves behind them on their Zooms.

David: He takes us through tablets. And codexes. We hear about why papyrus was a good idea at the time. We’re taken into the Middle Ages with monks painstakingly copying a book maybe over a lifetime. There’s there’s this quote which I enjoyed from the early Middle Ages.

‘Some orders had a custom similar to that of the Benedictines in which the member of each chapter assembled at a predetermined time to return books that had been issued to them during the previous year and to borrow a new book for the coming year.’

Melissa: One book for a year. Wow. You would have to choose very carefully.

David: Oh, that made me think about Christmas: ‘Here’s your book, Brother Eustace.’ We hear a lot about the importance of light over the ages. This is another quote from the book:

‘Windows and natural light were also important because of the fear of fire. And many old libraries were open only as long as the sun was up because any use of candles or oil lamps put the book collections too much in jeopardy.’

Melissa: That reminds me of the Austrian National Library that we visited. They have bookshelves that you can swing open and go into a reading room that are filled with natural light because inside the library the bookshelves go from the floor to the ceiling. But around that perimeter they built reading rooms with windows with natural light, and they’re called ‘star chambers’ because the books that are shelved inside there have stars on their spines.

David: As we talked about before at the time, before the printing press books were so valuable that they were chained in place or locked into a traveling chest of some kind. Yale University has at least one book that still has its chain attached. And then 1440, Gutenberg develops the press and an ink. It had never occurred to me before that the ink before Gutenberg were water-based and then he had to invent an oil-based ink so the machine would pick it up and use it. After Gutenberg, more books led to more reading led to more writing. Petroski tells us about how books were stored at some famous libraries. He takes a look at the design of the British Museum reading room and the New York Public Library. It talks about what it takes to shelve millions of books on miles of shelves. As early as 1910, the New York Public Library had 63 miles of shelving. Can you imagine that book? ‘Oh, that book? That’s, like, eight miles that way. Take a sandwich.’

Melissa: When we went to the British Museum, we just stumbled very luckily onto the public tour that they were doing and got the inside scoop on the conveyor belt train system they have that goes underground to get books, and they store millions of books in Leeds, which is a significant drive away. But they’re a research library. So you request materials and then they get them to you. Just the physical management of all of the objects is really interesting.

David: I was delighted to read about Samuel Pepys Library. He’s famous for his diary, which he wrote in the 1600s. He arranged his books by size, and he allowed himself a library of 3000 books. And then he numbered them. One, the smallest to 3000, the largest. And when he got a new book, he’d get rid of another.

Melissa: Did he get rid of a book of the same size?

David: That’s what I was wondering!

Melissa: How does that work? [laugter]

David: So, if you get a new book, and it’s small and you’re like, ‘OK, this is a book 4. Are you then renumbering? Five to 3000?

Melissa: This is my question. When people have large collections and they’re very specific about how they arrange them.

David: Yeah, I don’t know. I wanted to tell you to bits that I learned from this book. First, in the late 17th century, booksellers didn’t carry bound books at all. They were stacks of printed sheets. And then the buyer would take the book to be bound however they’d like. So 17th-century book buyers tended to have a preferred bookbinder, the way we have a plumber or a doctor.

Melissa: Then you could select the colours and the materials. And that’s how your library ends up looking really nice.

David: That’s why when you go into ancient mansions or places trying to look like an ancient mansion, all of the books look similar because the owner had a book binder and a preferred book bind and he use that over and over again.

Melissa: I love that you would have your your personal brand for your library. I think we should bring that back.

David: I think we should, too, or at least consider it.

David: And then finally, another thing that came out of that is the idea of printing the title of a book on an otherwise blank sheet to help organize the stack. That came down to us in the form of the flyleaf. We have the flyleaf because they didn’t used to bind the books. They just put a sheet on top that was like, This is David Copperfield, and then that sheet would get bound into the actual book.

Melissa: Mm. Yeah. The more you know.

David: The more you know. So if you’re interested in the history of books, I highly recommend this book. It’s quite a ride. It’s called The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski.

Melissa: My next pick is Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This book is a pure delight. It has a real exuberance about it and it’s a very happy book even when unhappy things are happening in the plot.

David: I have a lot of affection for this book because we listened to it together. When we were on a road trip.

Melissa: That’s true. We were going from Vermont to Toronto for TCAF. Which is a comics convention.

David: Right. To the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

Melissa: And we were in the car with another book-lover and cartoonist Tillie Walden, who you talked to in our Japan episode about manga.

David: I did.

Melissa: And the three of us super geeked-out over this book and we listened to it the entire time there and back.

David: It’s kind of perfect for that because it is one of those books where it is engaging and entertaining, but not so dense that you have to pay attention every second.

Melissa: And I have in my notes, that is emotionally engaging, but not embarrassingly so. You’re not going to be, like, holding back tears while you’re in the car with someone else. But I was really invested in these characters. So let’s talk about what it’s about. The story is set mostly in San Francisco in the near past. So the 2000s. Google is fairly new at the point of the story, but it exists and it seems magical.

David: It was yes, yeah, and it still is, but we’re used to it now.

Melissa: So the hero of the story is Clay. He is a young guy who’s lost his job in the tech implosion that happened in the Bay Area. And he is desperate for any work that will give him money. And he ends up taking a job working at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. He works the night shift. It’s kind of a weird place. It doesn’t function the way he expects a bookstore to function. And rather than selling books, he learns that his number one responsibility is to fill out a log book when customers come in and make notes about their affect, what they look like, what they say. He doesn’t understand why he’s tasked with doing that, and there is not that much foot traffic in this bookstore.

David: Especially in the middle of the night. It is unclear why it’s open 24 hours at all.

Melissa: Although I am personally into the idea of a 24-hour bookstore.

David: Of course.

Melissa: In my pretend life, I would work the overnight shift at the bookstore and see all the weirdos and book lovers who have to come in at, like, 2:00 in the morning for a book emergency. It also makes me think about all-night diners, and how you can take a book and get a cheeseburger and a cup of coffee that magically keeps getting refilled.

David: I want to go do that.

Melissa: Yeah. Anyway, back to Clay and Mr. Penumbra. Clay is less excited about working in the 24-hour bookstore than you and I are. It’s not long before he realizes that something-with-a-capital-S is going on. He starts to realize that the bookstore is less a store and maybe some kind of weird library. He begins to suspect that frail and bookish Mr. Penumbra is hiding something, and then Mr. Penumbra goes missing. And Clay decides that he is going to find him and get to the bottom of what’s going on at the bookstore.

Melissa: Who could resist the siren call of that?

David: Nobody that I know.

Melissa: And this is where the awesome found family comes in, because Clay is joined on his adventure by a super-nerdy and very endearing best friend turned tech millionare and a really cute girl named Kat, who is very intelligent, really comfortable in our own skin, a little bit prickly, and works at Google. So they bond together. They’re going to find Mr. Penumbra and they’re going to take advantage of technology at Google to aid them in their quest. Their adventure takes them from San Francisco to the Google campus. And that is a trip. The time they spend on the Google campus is really fun because I feel like Robin Sloan is both lampooning it a little bit and has a lot of affection for it. So there’s discussion about, you know, the stereotypical tech startup with a chef who works on the site. And he makes specific foods for different types of people so they can think clearly and have maximum energy. And it’s all very California startup kind of thing.

David: Yeah, it definitely — we were in San Francisco in the late ’90s for the Internet startup era. And it rang true. All of that stuff.

Melissa: Yeah. Robin Sloan did a really good job with that.

David: It made me slightly nostalgic for that time. It has both the qualities of ‘it was wonderful’ and ‘it was ridiculous.’

Melissa: Yes. Their quest for Mr. Penumbra also takes them to New York City and to a library that’s even more mysterious than the bookshop and maybe a little bit sinister.

David: Dun dun dun.

Melissa: I like this for Strong Sense of Place because it really captures the allure of libraries — that desire to be around books and to know their secrets and to know about the other people who are reading them and to kind of covet both the information that’s inside the book, but also just to hold that object.

David: Yeah.

Melissa: And the power of stories and what stories mean to us and what the stories we leave behind mean to other people.

David: Yes! Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

Melissa: Yes, but all of that is less overt than Hamilton. It kind of is the subtext of this big adventure story. So it’s really fun. It’s kind of like a madcap romp.

Melissa: The last thing I want to say about this book is that the characters approach the world with a sense of wonder. I feel like that comes directly from Robin Sloan, the author. I subscribe to his newsletter. He is such a curious person and he’s interested in technology and philosophy and story and how we interact with each other and how we interact with the world. And he’s just interested in a whole bunch of different things. And all of that is shared in his newsletter with this joie de vivre that I found really infectious. He and his wife started an olive oil company because they have an olive farm. His more recent book is called Sourdough. It’s all about the kind of magic and mystery of sourdough and what food means to us and the science of that. He’s just a really interesting thinker. And I will include a link to his newsletter in the show notes because, yeah, his nonfiction thinking is equally as engaging as his fiction.

Melissa: That is Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

David: My next book is Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles. This is a short, very readable history of the library. Matthew Battles has since written six books. Five of them are about libraries.

Melissa: Oh, wow.

David: Yep, this one is only about 270 and a chunk of that is notes and such. In it, we visit a whole lot of libraries from very small, like the wagon libraries that used to service America’s frontiers, the large commanding research libraries. At the time he started this book, Battles was a librarian at Harvard’s Widener Library. The Widener has 57 miles of shelves.

Melissa: That’s a lot of shelves. That’s a lot of books.

David: The first chapter is about basically being a librarian at sea in an ocean of books. He writes:

‘In the stacks of the library, I have the distinct impression that its millions of volumes may indeed contain the entirety of human experience; that they make not a model for but a model of the universe. Fluttering down the foot-worn marble stairs that drop into the building’s bowels, descending through layer after layer of pungent books, I am often struck by the sense that everything happening outside must have its printed counterpart somewhere in the stacks.’

Melissa: Yes, pungent books. That’s so good.

David: Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about. He starts us more or less at the Library of Alexandria. He tells us that one of the ways that they grew the Library of Alexandria was by searching every ship that docked in Alexandria for books, seizing the books, making a copy of the book, and then returning the copy to the vote.

Melissa: Oh, my gosh. Rude! I kinda like it, though.

David: You should be aware that if you’re going to get into this book that there is a darkness here. Battles writes about the destruction of libraries and the loss of life. He visits the idea early and often that despots and tyrants really seem to enjoy burning libraries. It’s happened over and over, even in situations where it’s clear that hanging on to the information would be useful.

David: Alexandria, for instance, was burned a few times but ultimately went to rot from neglect. I thought that was interesting.

Melissa: Oh, that’s really sad.

David: Christians took over Alexandria and thought that it was all heretical and just never went. But it’s hardly the only library that was famously put to the torch. Wikipedia has a list, for instance, that starts in China in 2006 B.C. and ends in 2015 in Iraq. It is long and devastating. Battles points out that as a result, much of what we have from antiquity survived because it was held in a small private library in some backwater in the ancient world. There’s a surprising amount of kind of emotion in this book. I found parts of it a little hard to read. Battles also introduces us to the amazing cast of characters, most of whom seem to have suffered from some form of OCD.

Melissa: Not a surprise.

David: We meet the first man to cross-index the British Library. His name was Antonio Panizzi. Antonio started at the British Library in the 1830s. He had the idea of cataloguing the books by subject and author and publisher and documenting the book’s use across other books.

Melissa: Oh, I could see how that would make you a little bananas.

David: He also recorded the location of the book and the library called at the time the ‘pressmark,’ and he brought us some useful ideas and his ideas radically changed libraries forever. We also meet his enemy, who had the very memorable name of Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas.

Melissa: Really?

David: Yeah, he was a naval historian. He thought cataloguing was too time consuming and subject Panizzi’s whims.

Melissa: So how did you think the book should be arranged?

David: Aas they’ve always been, madame.

Melissa: Oh!

David: Yeah, that brings us to this paragraph, which I enjoyed:

‘Nicolas disliked the thought of thumbing through more than 48 volumes of catalogs to find his books. He scarcely could have imagined how fundamentally Panizzi’s reforms would change the very idea of the catalogue — not to mention its sheer bulk — in the years to come. If the devil had sent him along to visit the Round Reading Room of the British Library in 1991, he would have found that the copy of the printed catalogue in use there, with its numerous supplements and additions, had swollen to a daunting 2300 volumes ringing the central desk.’

Melissa: How did they catalogue the catalogue? [laughter] That’s amazing.

David: Yeah, and Easy went on to be knighted in 1869 and his rules for cataloguing held sway into the 1950s. A few pages later, we meet Melville Dewey.

Melissa: Oh, Dewey —

David: Who invented the Dewey Decimal System. He also founded the first library school and he launched a company to sell furniture and office supplies to libraries. He founded the American Library Association and set standards for the profession that still ring in our culture. As Battles puts it:

‘Dewey’s vigor, zeal, and indomitable personality contributed as much to classification that bears his name to making him the most famous librarian of his or any other time. In many respects, this is unfortunate, for Dewey’s obsession with efficiency, his reliance on the mandate of authority and hierarchy, and his socio-cultural and religious prejudice has affected the development of the library in ways that haunt it to this day.’

David: As an example, Melville Dewey championed the idea that women should go to the library school at Columbia.

Melissa: So that seems good.

David: Yeah, this was at the time scandalous — women in a college. ‘How dare you, sir? I said good day.’

David: But this wasn’t because Dewey was an early feminist. Dewey believed the librarian should have low professional status in comparison to professors. He thought librarians should be limited to sorting and cataloging, not choosing the books or directing reading. He figured women were low on status already, so that would encourage people to give less professional respect to librarians.

Melissa: I wish all of you could see my face and body language right now.

David: Dewey was also a sexual predator. If that wasn’t enough, he made a bunch of inappropriate physical advances towards women, including librarians he worked with and his own daughter in law.

Melissa: Oh, Dewey.

David: Eventually he was tossed out of the association he founded as a result of what one librarian of the time called, quote, ‘His outrages against decency.’

Melissa: Hear, hear.

David: So there’s some darkness in the history of the library. But my favorite running thread through this book is the gratitude that Battles has for libraries and the books they house. He makes a good case that libraries are a school for learning and for empathy, and it’s hard not to get behind that. I recommend this book to anybody who’s curious about the history of books.

David: It’s called Library: An Unquiet History, and it was written by Matthew Battles.

Melissa: My final book is The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is the fourth book in the cycle of books known as The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón has said that he likes to call these books a cycle, not a series, because the four books were written so that you can read them in any order. I love that so much. I’m talking about the fourth book, but I want to tell you about the other three really quickly. The first is called The Shadow of the Wind. It was published in 2005, and it sold 15 million copies so far.

David: So some people have heard of this book!

Melissa: It is much beloved. And then the middle two books are The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. And then we get the final, The labyrinth of the Spirits, which does bring together threads from all of the other books. And when I was reading it, I was thinking it would be a great one to read last as I did, or first because it kind of introduces you to the ideas that happened in the other books. It’s a really fun world that he has set up. All of the stories kind of swirl around The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which is a labyrinthine library in Barcelona. When you enter it, it’s much larger inside than it looks like from the outside. And the conceit of the library is that when a person enters, a book chooses them. They are responsible for the care of that story. I read this book shortly after Carlos Ruiz Zafón died in June. I full-on ugly-cried at the end. Partially because what was happening in the story was really moving, and partially because of the realization that this is the last work we’re going to have from this author whose books I enjoyed so much.

Melissa: But that’s one of the great things about books, right? They move on through time. So even though he’s gone physically, he’s not really gone because his stories and what he thinks about the world exist through his characters and his novels, which made me feel a little bit better.

David: Yeah, it’s really hard when you lose an artist like that. I remember reading one of the books that we read from Morocco had a quote about… when a storyteller dies, a library burns. And you kind of lose all of the potential and all of those characters. Both things are true, right? That it is tragic that they’re gone. But it’s also delightful that they have we have the work that we have.

Melissa: Absolutely. I feel like all of his books are a gift.

Melissa: This book is set in 1930s and 1950s Spain in both Barcelona and Madrid. So pre-WWII and Spanish Revolution time and then post-WWII, which is a very dynamic time in Spain. And it’s worth mentioning that this novel combines elements of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and police procedural. It is a big, epic, sprawling, multilayered story. It’s the kind of thing that you can really fall into, escape into. And it opens very dramatically. It is 1938. And this is real history: Fascists are bombing Barcelona. We’re dropped right into the middle of the action. We meet a mysterious character who has stowed away on a ship and is hiding in the hold. And the description is basically, like — it sounds like a cabinet of curiosities. There’s all kinds of stuff in the hold of this ship. And he is hiding out desperately hoping that no one finds him. It is life or death. If he gets found, it’s all over for him. He finally disembarks in Barcelona and you’re like, ‘Phew, he got off the ship.” OK, you better now. I can breathe now. And the fire bombing starts.

David: Oh, geez.

Melissa: He goes to an apartment and he meets this n9-year-old girl named Alicia, and you don’t really know what their connection is. And before you can figure it out, they are on the run, literally, from a bomb and a fire that is happening in their neighborhood.

David: Wow.

Melissa: So the beginning is like an action-adventure movie. It is very exciting. After that night, it kind of stops in the middle of the action — cliffhanger. And then we jump forward 20 years in time and we meet Alicia again. And she is now a 29-year-old woman. She is carrying some very hefty baggage from her young life. She has an injury to her hip from that night that won’t heal and causes her great physical pain and is also this constant reminder of what she’s been through. And she’s a very successful investigator for the secret police in Madrid, and she is as cynical as a person can be. So you’re kind of invested in her because of what happens in the beginning and then you meet her and is a jolt. And she’s kind of brittle. It’s kind of sad. But you also care about her because you know where she came from. She is world-weary. She is very beautiful. By all accounts, she is a really excellent detective, but she’s over it. She wants to leave the business. She has kind of a weird, fraught relationship with her boss. It’s not immediately clear what’s going on with them, but something is going on and she just wants out. So he makes the devil’s bargain with her: Work one more case and I will let you go.

David: Mm hmm. [evil laughter]

Melissa: Which is always terrible for the characters, but so good for us.

David: Right.

Melissa: So she is off to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture. And then we start to meet the rest of the characters that are going to round out this story, she partners up with a cop in Madrid. They have kind of an uneasy alliance. She is not used to working with somebody. And he’s, like, Who is this girl that I’m supposed to be working with? There are also mysterious authors and a very dangerous businessman and a family of booksellers and the director of the notorious Montjuic Pprison in Barcelona, which is a real place.

Melissa: It was a fortress and then it was a prison. And then it was a center for torture during the Civil War in Spain. The other thing that makes this really nice for a Strong Sense of Place is that the descriptions of Barcelona and Madrid could only be written by someone who loves that place and knows what the light looks like at a particular time of day and what this small alley smells like and sounds like. And this shop is here. But what used to be here was this. All of that is resonant in his descriptions of both Barcelona and Madrid. And in 2019, he actually wrote a piece for The New York Times about places to visit in Barcelona that are mentioned in his books.

David: Oh, that’s cool.

Melissa: It’s really nice. He curated a walking tour of the city. In my notes, it says things like ‘dark magic’ and ‘spellbinding.’ ‘I crawled into this book and didn’t want to come out.’ So if that sounds like the kind of thing that you would like, I 100 percent recommend The Labyrinth of the Spirits.

Melissa: And in terms of the cycle, if you wanted to take that on, if anyone’s looking for kind of a long-term reading project. It’s 2250 pages, roughly, if you read all four of them back to back. If you want a shorter project, I feel like you could read The Shadow of the Wind, which is the first one, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits, which is the fourth one, and get a very comprehensive look at the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. And if you like those two, then you could read the middle two, because the middle two are kind of side journeys with supporting characters from the other stories.

David: Side quest!

Melissa: But this book stands on its own. It works as a standalone. That is The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. There will be tons of links in show notes about these books because he is also a pianist. And I found a video of him playing the piano where David and I were both, like, ‘He is just showing off. He can write like that and he plays the piano like that. How is that fair?’

David: Yeah, the beginning of that video is presented, like, Here’s the author playing piano.’ And you’re expecting: plunk, plunk. You know: good, solid. And you get amazing. Yes. Just how is he doing that?

Melissa: He composed music specifically for people to listen to while they were reading The Shadow of the Wind. It used to be available online, and I wasn’t able to find it, which makes me wonder if there’s a plan to officially release that somehow now that he sadly passed. But if you’re an intense Google or you might be able to find it somewhere.

David: Those are a bunch of books we love about the library that you can probably find at your own library.

Melissa: It’s very meta.

David: It’s very meta. Visit our show notes at strongsenseofplace.com for links and details. Mel, can you tell us about what you’re writing for the library?

Melissa: Yes. OK, I read a book called The Giants House, which again, no time to talk about all the books that I loved, but it inspired a recipe for salted caramels that we will have on the website in a couple of days.

David: There’s almost nothing better than the smell of caramel cooking.

Melissa: That is correct. Your house will smell amazing.

David: Yes. And then plus bonus, you get to eat the caramels, which is also fantastic.

Melissa: I’ve also collected a quite lengthy list of amazing library and archive accounts on Instagram, where they’re sharing manuscripts and documents and beautiful books from rare book collections, some preservation accounts where they show how they’re preserving books. It is a treasure trove of things to make you smarter and satisfy your curiosity about the world. We will also be sharing photos from a private tour we took of the Strahov Monastery Library.

David: It was so fun.

Melissa: It was a really special day. Yeah. And I’m doing a blog post of all of the books that I’ve read that are set in libraries that we couldn’t get to in this episode of the podcast.

David: We will be right back with one of my favorite librarians, Frank Collerius of the New York Public Library.

I’m here with Frank Collerius. Frank is the manager of the New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market Branch, which is a beautiful library at the corner of 10th Street and Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan. He’s also the co-host of the podcast The Librarian is In. Frank, thanks so much for being here.

Frank: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

David: You have what I’m guessing is a dream job for many of our listeners. How did you get started on the path that you’re on?

Frank: In anticipation of that question, I did think about it, and I did come up with a memory that I hadn’t thought of in so long. Do you remember a book when you were a kid? I’m sure you do… From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

David: Absolutely! I love that book.

Frank: I knew you would. So they run away, and they hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and basically live there.

David: Yeah, that sounded like the best idea in the world when I read that book, you know?

Frank: Yeah. Yeah, I agree with you. So I actually just amended it to my local library. I grew up in Long Island outside of New York City and, you know, suburbia and my local library I loved. And I decided I wanted to live there and spend the night there. And I was like ten, maybe, I don’t know how old I was. But you can go to the library. I was on my own and I basically went into the bathroom like they did, the kids in the book and jumped up on the toilet and crouched down and hid. And I knew the guard was doing rounds, as it did in the book. And I was just convinced because it happened in the book and I love that book, that it was going to work. And I’m sitting there anticipating my night in heaven amongst all these books in the dark Library at 10 years old, not wondering, like, my parents will freak out about where I am. But then the guard open the door and just said, ‘All right, kid, get out! I know you’re in here. Let’s go.’ And I was, like, ‘What? How did that not work?’

Frank: So I guess the answer of why libraries is I’ve loved them ever since I can remember. And I worked in bookstores for years. And then I saw an ad in the newspaper in The New York Times for an open house at New York Public Library and never looked back. I mean, the library itself — you know, this is where the issue, which is so intertwined, obviously, with libraries — of technology. What it meant to me then, because so much is so important when you’re a kid or when you’re a young person, obviously, that you travel with that your whole life. So the idea of a library when I was a kid was just before technology that we have today. It was just mind-blowing and an eye-opening and that there was a place I could go on my own and journey through it and on my own, in my own way, find what I wanted to find or find what I didn’t expect to find. It wasn’t home, and it wasn’t under the eyes of anyone. I wasn’t being watched. I wasn’t being judged. Of course, the librarians were probably watching me, like, ‘What’s this kid doing here?’ But I didn’t feel like it. There was a magic about being in a library that felt private in public, which I loved. When I grew up, I eventually wanted to create, for me, it wasn’t books — even though I worship books — as the conduit. As I look back, I didn’t know it when I started in the library, but I know it now. I wanted to create an environment, a physical environment for people to find magic, to find solace, to find meaning, to find value in their life. That’s my focus. Literally, a physical space where people can go in without being sold to, without having to buy anything, without having to have any expectation of them. It’s driven by them to be in the space.

David: That’s a beautiful vision.

Frank: Ah, thanks. It’s bee nice talking to you. I’m done. [laughter]

David: I think so. That was great. [laughter] Well, before you go, though, you’re a librarian. Maybe I can get your opinion on a few books. So you’re a lifelong New York resident. And I want to ask you if you have any books that remind you of what life is like in New York.

-Frank:__ A book that brings to mind New York that is just a great book, too, is _Just Kids by Patti Smith.

David: Yeah. Oh, yeah. It absolutely brought New York back for me.

_Frank:__ I mean, Patti Smith, the musician and poet, writes about her relationship with the photographer, artist Robert Mapplethorpe and her arrival in New York from the suburbs of Jersey in 1967. And so that’s already a meaningful years and through the seventies. And so she evokes what coming to New York and being in New York at that time meant. And now it’s, like, a legendary time. I mean, her descriptions of being in New York and what it meant was so vivid and beautiful. I mean, this is the only book I ever read or the only anything I’ve ever read that made me feel coming from a middle-class background, just sort of, like, an American background — that made me feel that being an artist or the pursuit of being an artist was just like training to be a bus driver or a lawyer or anything. It’s legitimate. In other words, there’s no pretension to it. Like, growing up, it was like, ‘oh, if you want to be an artist. Well, yeah, but you need a back-up or it’s a little pretentious or, like, ‘Do you want to be an artist? That’s so fancy.’ And reading this book by Patti Smith made me think it’s an absolutely necessary, legitimate, and, in some ways, prosaic pursuit. I mean, the ultimate goal is to almost be uplifted and out out of the prosaic, but they need to do it is just like any other need. And as a profession, it’s not with with pretense or artifice or any highfalutin goal.

And I I loved her for that because — I loved her and hated her because then I regretted never pursuing this thought. Well, I’ve wasted my life.

David: Thanks, Patti.

Frank: And my own parents false impression that art was sort of a fun thing to do. The book… I was reading it, rereading it last night, and it just it brings tears to my eyes. So it evokes New York very much so. I mean, I was in the in the East Village in the eighties and of course, now the East Village in New York in the ’80s is an iconic time, full of lots of characters that I did encounter in some ways at the time. I was just living my life and being a college kid and doing my thing. And now I look back and I’m like, I was living in the East Village in the ’80s in an iconic time. Yeah, it suddenly becomes a Thing and it becomes very New York. And therefore I’m obsessed with stories about New York in the ’70s, ’60s, ’80s, that kind of thing.

David: Yeah, Just Kids for me captured that whole era. And like you said, that sort of the path of being a young artist and what that’s like and all of the trauma that entails. Of trying to trying to find your voice and what that means. But yeah. I’m with you. That’s that’s a fantastic pick for in New York.

__Frank:_Like any any artist or any young person or person who wants to be an artist should read that. It’s really does show, like you just said, that evolution of finding your art and accepting it is legitimate.

David: Is there anything else you want to talk?

Frank: I should say, in the future, I hope that people who are listening might take a journey or a trip to the Jefferson Market Library, which is one of the branches of the New York Public Library. It’s a beautiful library with an incredible history.

David: I’m going to back you up on that. That is a it is a beautiful place you’ve got there. So it’s on a triangular plot. It’s an old courthouse, I believe, of brick and stone work, right?

Frank: Yeah, you’re correct.

David: And there’s a commanding clock tower that goes up. It looks like something from just a different time because it is something from a different time. It’s got these beautiful multistory windows, I think, right within their arch. They’re stained glass. The library is inside of that room. So if you go into the library, you’ve got this sort of beautiful open space with lots of light and and books all around.

_Frank: Exactly. You remember it accurately. In the original from when it was a courthouse like, thank God. I mean, that it survives. So we’re getting… we’re actually under construction right now, which has been delayed, as you can imagine. But we’ll continue soon and nothing original will be taken away. It’s not going to be super-modernized. It’s going to be just enhanced and even more beautiful. It actually, to be honest, to give you a little reason to come to New York and visit me and visit the library is some stained glass that was hidden by a wall from the ’60s renovation is going to be revealed.

David: Oh, wow.

Frank: Some windows and some, as you pointed out, again, airy spaces that that were not shown before. So that’s an exciting thing to look forward to. Plus, it’ll give me more public space to deal with. It’s opening up a whole amount of space that wasn’t there before for various reasons. I’m furiously thinking of new ways to use the space when we can gather and be amongst people.

David: Again, I look forward to both of those things to be able to gather and to seeing what you do with your space. Frank, it’s been just a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for taking some time to visit.

_Frank: Thank you.

David: Thank you for listening to Strong Sense of Place. If you want to help us out, a thing you could do is go to iTunes or anywhere else and rate our podcast. Let us know what you think. Let other people know what you think. That helps us build our audience and that helps us ensure the longevity of this project.

David: Mel, where are we going? In our next show?

Melissa: We are heading to the land of the Māori and Hobbits. We’re going to New Zealand.

David: Excellent. Thanks very much. And we’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]

Top image courtesy of Ryan DeBerardinis.

Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!

keep reading

For readers, the book-lined shelves of libraries and archives are a dreamy backdrop for stories that resonate. These novels and nonfiction titles explore the drama, adventure, and history of our favorite bookish places.
We love a character that's got a salty side to balance the sweetness, and that's just what we get in Peggy, the librarian. These caramels are a tribute to her ability to give her whole heart when it matters the most.
The stacks, backrooms, and archives in libraries all over the world are filled with countless treasures — rare books, photos, parchments, maps — that place us in history. Instagram lets us take a peek from where we sit.
Let's take a virtual tour of stunning libraries from Europe to the UK and across the pond to NYC. It's a celebration of free-thinking, love of learning, and really tall bookshelves. No passport nor library card required.
Mary Kingsbury was the first professional school librarian in American history. She started as a teacher in Latin, math, geography, and zoology — not bad for a girl who's father thought she didn't need an education.
It looks like the enchanted library of your dreams, but it's really the East Room of banker J.P. Morgan's 1906 Library, the heart of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Commence swooning.
The Municipal Library of Prague (_Městská knihovna v Praze_) is close to the city center, and it's a quiet, magical place to escape the crush of Old Town and relax in the serenity of bookland. Visitors welcome.
Soft light illuminates floor-to-ceiling shelves of gilt-spined books in the libraries of the Strahov Monastery. But it's not all Latin texts and antique globes: a narwhal horn and a giant crab decorate the hallway.
Gilded bookshelves, antique globes, allegorical ceiling frescoes, thousands of books, church ruins, trompe l'oeil — we took it all in on a tour of the Strahov Monastery Library and the Břevnov Monastery in Prague.
A sinful but repentant monk, an assist from the devil, an 800-year-old book, potential madness, and a rivalry between Bohemia and Sweden. This story of the Codex Gigas, also known as The Devil's Bible, has everything.
This award-winning building is a work of art itself, with windows that frame the natural beauty of its setting on the waterfront. Inside, you'll find a lovely glass mural, history and art exhibits, and so many books.

sharing is caring!

Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.

This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas 2020!

This 30-page 2020 Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.
follow us

Content on this site is © 2020 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.