Tag Archives: true crime

The Monday Book: THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

Our Monday book this week comes from Janelle Bailey


Oh, this book spoke to me…and made a number of my synapses tingle in agreement with and understanding of, valuing of ideas Orlean shared here. I feel that our affinity and fondness for libraries and for books is…very similar. And literally, I listened to the audiobook, and since Orlean read it herself, she truly did speak to me as well.
The first thing that struck me is that this particular event that she focuses on throughout the book, a fire in a Los Angeles library in April of 1986 had me wondering whether I was possibly IN Los Angeles when that happened. I will have to do some digging to see if that is, indeed, when I was in LA and at Merv Griffin Studios for my first Wheel of Fortune tryout/testing, etc. Man, I just think that I possibly was. MAYBE that was earlier that spring…say in late March or early April. Regardless, this had me thinking about how without cell phones and notifications and news and social media, well…it may not have been something I would have learned about right then even IF I was right in that city when it happened.
And here is another audiobook which I wish I had read in print, as there were so many lines I wanted to underline and savor and save, such as something she said about like alcoholics crave and need alcohol do librarians love and need their books…or something like that. Actually the entire thing made me feel that maybe I don’t need to write books so much as I should become a librarian. And then I thought naw…I AM a librarian in all of the ways that they thrive; I’m just not being paid to do the work, and I don’t have to report to anyone. But alllllll of the satisfaction conveyed in this book about “being” a librarian, I do enjoy from having my own alphabetized shelves and collection and the willingness to make recommendations to others and share them, etc.
I enjoyed Orlean’s practice of starting each chapter with citations of particular works, including their authors, call numbers, publication dates and authors, etc…sometimes even location in a library. Again, since I listened to the audiobook rather than reading a print version of the book, I am imagining what this looks like on the page, but it truly took me a few chapters to figure out what was happening there, and then a few more after that to understand how each collection was united. I wish I had been able to easily go back to the beginning of the chapter at its end to see how that all played out in each chapter. I thought that the last chapter’s citations were just plain poetic in list. Giggled out loud on my walk.
This is a very enjoyable non-fiction “read,” though the story it tells is a troubling one at its roots, the story of this horrific and extremely detrimental fire on April 29 of 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library, and also some of the story about Harry Peak, the only “suspect,” really, ever questioned about that fire, it seems. And what a tangled web that all is/became.
If I’m critical of anything it is that there is repetition, that the book is just a tad longer than it needs to be to tell this story and even to tell it well. I suspect I “get” why Orlean may have chosen to do that, but I didn’t think it was necessary or helpful in building a case. It came across as though she may have forgotten she’d already said those things.
And I’m truly not critical of that, even, as I appreciated everything about this book. I loved meeting the librarians and hearing about how they’d gotten there and what they hoped to accomplish, and of Orlean’s own history with libraries, back to childhood and beyond. I enjoyed meeting the patrons and the employees in their various facets of contribution to the workings of libraries and appreciate the efforts of libraries to be community centers, places where people can find sanctuary of some kind in challenging times.
Was I the last one to get to this book? Have you all read it already?! If not…please do.

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Filed under book reviews, out of things to read, publishing, reading

Why Jack Goes to Prison Every Month

Jack’s weekly guest blog, which he wrote before heading off to Scotland for the annual tour.

I am a member of the Prison Visiting Service (PVS) and I go, once a month, to visit two inmates at Lee Federal Prison. PVS is supported by a wide variety of faith groups as well as ex-prison staff and ex-prisoners. Four of us from the Quaker group that meets in the bookstore are on the PVS team visiting our ‘local’.

When I tell folk that I do this, reactions vary. Some say they couldn’t do it while others ask what it’s like; others don’t even know there is a Federal prison nearby. As for me, I admit I had some misgivings at first. There is rigorous vetting beforehand and a formidable folder of ‘dos and don’ts’ to be absorbed. The place itself is only ten years old and pretty intimidating at first sight, growing more so as you progress past security and deeper towards the visiting room, gates and doors clang-closing behind you.

Normally you visit with your inmates sitting across from each other at a table with little restriction, but sometimes he will be in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) AKA ‘the hole’. If he’s in the hole then you talk through a plate glass window via a crackly telephone and he’s in handcuffs and leg shackles.

“Why on earth do you do it, you ask?”

Initially because it seemed a charitable thing to do. But having done it for a year now, I’ve been able to think a good deal more about it. I am only now beginning to get a sense of what it’s like to live in that environment and I cannot imagine how I would deal with it. These guys are human beings just like you and me – no, really they are! Some are sad young men who are not violent, just ‘illegal immigrants’ brought here as children, now waiting out their 5 to 8 year sentences before being dumped on the border. Others are in for much longer for serious crimes. It would be easy to categorize them as not-so-bad or very bad, but I resist that, for they are all humans who should be listened to, and that’s why I go.

Let’s call the two I regularly visit ‘Bill and ‘Bob’. Bob has been in for 33 years and (theoretically) is due out in another 14. Bill has been in ten years and has ten to go. Like many Federal prisoners Bill and Bob have no family near enough to visit and would have no-one to talk to from outside if we didn’t go. Yes, they’ve done wrong. Yes, they need to be away from people they could harm. And yes, they need to be listened to, because they’re humans.

Between us we see 8 inmates each month, but there are 11 more on the waiting list and more asking all the time if someone will visit them. Bob and Bill tell me they look forward to the visits – “you’re not staff and you’re not prisoners – you’re just ordinary folks.”

Why do I do it? Because I’m human too.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, VA