And now for a strategic discussion. In one month, I’ll begin 6 weeks of medical leave from work. I have a bunch of ebook holds also coming up over the next four weeks, and my library does 21 day checkouts on ebooks. When a hold comes in, I have the option of deferring it – essentially passing to the next person while staying first in line. I can also put ebooks on hold now. Any suggestions on how to handle that situation? Would you start accumulating ebooks 1-2 weeks prior to leave, but have a shorter time to finish them before the holds expire? or hold everything until leave occurs and trust in library serendipity?
This summer, I read eight books with a Jane Austen setting: some re-imagining the author’s life, and others set in the world of her books.
I am not the world’s biggest Austen fan; in fact, I’ve only lately come to appreciate her work. In 2018, I read The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, one of a series of Jane Austen Annotated Editions by Harvard University Press. When they say annotated – these editions contain extensive, easy to access notes alongside the main text.. These notes really opened the door to me understanding what was going on in Austen’s world and engaging with the narrative. I went on to read all of Austen’s finished work in 2018 and 2019.
Jumping back to summer 2020, the best book I read set in Austen’s universe was The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I can’t be the only nerd who has ever read Pride and Prejudice and sympathized with middle daughter Mary, who wears glasses and is not musical and always has awkward things to say. This book tells her story, taking her in the first section from the awkward sister on the sidelines of Lizzy’s story to a woman in her own right, confident yet still retaining her intellect and character. I could easily recommend it to most historical fiction fans, even those with only slight familiarity with Austen’s work. However, to my IRL friend Peg who hates books that are drawn out by communication problems and misunderstandings: Walk away from this one.
For me, I enjoyed Hadlow’s writing so much that I picked up her earlier book, a biography of King George III and Queen Charlotte called A Royal Experiment. I’m about 25% of the way through it and am really enjoying both the historical immersion and the dramatic tension she brings to the story by describing the couple’s battle to build a private domestic life.
I also read and enjoyed Miss Austen by Gill Hornby. The titular Miss Austen is Cassandra, Jane’s beloved older sister, who is shown in her old age at a relative’s home trying to collect Jane’s letters to hide a family secret. Once again, I enjoyed being immersed in this world and the writing was strong enough to get me past two of my peeves: I generally don’t care for books that oscillate between two time periods, nor do I like books where the primary tension is undivulged family secrets. I did think the family secrets were a bit of a letdown in the end, and as someone who is not fanatical about all things Austen, I struggled to follow some of the family relationships described in the book. It would be a great read for true Austen fans who love books about dark family secrets.
Finally, I continued with Stephanie Barron’s series of Jane Austen mysteries. In this series, Jane Austen is a detective. Throughout the series, the author uses Jane Austen’s diaries to ground her in time and place, and frequently even incorporates actual events into the story. For me, this gives the books a strong sense of place, which is something I value highly in a book. This summer, I read:
#6 Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House (abandoned; my fault as I don’t like nautical stories)
#7 Jane and the Ghosts of Netley (very good!)
#8 Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy (a series favorite – permanently etched Chawton in my mind)
#9 Jane and the Barque of Frailty (good, but overly dramatic and not as much Austen character)
#10 Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron (again good, but less character than other books in the series)
#11 Jane and the Canterbury Tale (good, love the parallels to Chaucer)
There are two books left in this complete and overall very consistent series, plus the author has a second pen name of Francine Mathews, so I’m looking forward to lots more reading.
What other books have you read set in Austen’s world?
I walked in the front door of the library, breathing in the scent of dusty books combined with ammonia cleaner and warm Xeroxes.
Granny was waiting for me behind the counter, smiling. She started to come out to me, but I ran behind the counter with her in my accustomed place. I was spending the week with her, helping in the library.
“Why don’t we get the library ready to close,” she suggested, ignoring my mother hovering in the background. I looked around eagerly for patrons ready to check out, but she pointed me to the stamps instead.
I remembered: every night in the library, you had to set the stamps forward one day. There was a whole rack of stamps for check outs, each one labeled with the type of media: one for magazines and one for books; one for new materials and one for VHS tapes. Each stamp was a date, the due date for the item being checked out. Regular books could be checked out for 4 weeks, so the date was set exactly four weeks into the future. The librarian – or this week, I – would stamp a little card in the back of the book, and a corresponding sleeve for the card. She would keep the card in a file until the book was returned, that way, both the librarian and the person with the book would know when it was due back.
To keep up with the dates, every night the librarian would roll the dates back by one day using a little wheel on the side of the stamp. I carefully turned the Magazine stamp from 27 to 28. Soon, while I was here, I would also be turning the month part of the stamp back from July to August.
Stamps fixed, I looked over the rest of the desk. The stamps were in their special rack, with ink pads below them. There was a giant roll of extra-sticky librarian tape in a heavy dispenser, and a little pot of stuff to dip your finger in when turning pages, so that they didn’t stick.
So much of being a librarian was sticking and unsticking.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire fromThe Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!
I have just finished reading 5 different Jane Austen related novels in a row – the best of which was The Other Bennet Sister. That’s a whole other blog post of course, but I was happy to see some very different library holds come in.
In this series, I explore childhood memories of helping my librarian grandmother.
You need a real card catalog for this.
A computerized database won’t work. I don’t care if it’s on a green-tinted DOS based computer, jealously guarded by your unfriendly local librarian, or a search function you access on your phone.
Also not working: a card catalog remade as a piece of furniture. Authentic or manufactured, if the drawers don’t open to reveal an accordion of index cards resting neatly on a metal spine, you can’t play this game.
Found one? Ok, good. Ideally, it’s in a small-town library, at a quiet time of day. You have a friend with you, or a cousin. Get some scratch paper and a couple of pencils. This game is Notes.
It doesn’t take place entirely in the card catalog. That would feel too much like Bible races at church camp. Or like an actual filing job. No, you need to start by writing a clue for your opponent about some interesting object in the library. The best little libraries have local art in them – you can start there. Fill me with popcorn, you write.
You have to think ahead. You keep the first note, the one with the clue about the wooden bowl, in your pocket, and think of the next clue to nestle inside the bowl. You think of your opponent: you need a book reference that they will be able to figure out – it’s no fun if the game stalls out – but not too quickly.
But wait! There’s also the subject index. You do some quick checking. Yes, that will work. The clue in the bowl reads: Best place to play Notes, and the next clue goes in the index file behind “Libraries”.
A disclaimer for my readers: My “what is working” posts generally come out when I feel like so much in my life isn’t working. This is an attempt to focus on what I’m doing well, and do more of it.
August has been really busy on the community connection front: I signed up for MOPS “after bedtime” zoom meetings which will round out my church participation and help me develop a support group of moms. And I accepted a committee position leading to a board position with YWCA which runs a local women’s shelter and low income childcare which meets my community involvement goal without being too big of a time commitment.
On the ‘not getting it done’ side, I haven’t been feeling well. I know I need to work on self-care and I’m struggling with that: the running doesn’t work well when I feel like this, nor does weight loss. I’ve lost 5-6 lbs but stalled out. I started a great selfish knitting project on vacation (The Shift by Andrea Mowry with Asylum Fibers yarn) but didn’t finish, and it’s not a good project for my covid brain.
I do feel like the MOPS and community service will help me feel more connected and provide self-care in that way. But I need more alone time, and I need to be doing things that calm my mind down in that time: yoga, and reading, and writing primarily. Crafting, running, and socialization are good but secondary – but they’re also easier to obtain.
My reading life is just kind of bumping along. I’m currently reading book 3 in Laurie Marks’ Elemental Logic series – Water Logic – and it’s good but even a familiar fantasy world can be hard to get into when are trying to do it in 5-10 minute snatches of time.
A friend helped me figure out that I can probably do outdoor yoga at a park just a couple miles away, at least into fall. And I tried a Youtube yin yoga class from The Yoga Ranger which was amazing – I’ve done a lot of free youtube yoga but for some reason never tried yin – maybe the props were intimidating? I’m considering starting her 10-day self care series this Sunday.
The alone time aspect to my self care is just so, so hard. I know you guys recognize this: if I start doing something for myself I have 5 minutes max before someone in my household interrupts me. I have no idea how to get around that in pandemic world where I can’t kick them out of the house, and I can’t leave either.
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire fromThe Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.
I got three ebook holds in this week, following a long dry spell – all new releases I’ve been looking forward too. Even better, I’ve started reading two of them, so I can give you my first impression.
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby – I’m about three chapters in on this book told from the perspective of Jane Austen’s sister and best friend, Cassandra. The writing is just to my style, not emulating Jane Austen at all, but very up to date, fresh and unselfconscious. The narrative alternates between past and present, and Cassandra is hiding a secret of Jane’s – both devices are normally big NOs for me in a book, but in this case I’m hooked. (Note: Links in this post are all to my favorite indie bookstore – just giving them some love; I am not compensated in any way).
Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney – haven’t started this one yet. This is a thriller with a heroine in her 70’s – definitely not my usual, which is probably why it’s on the bottom of the pile.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas – I was most excited for this book, and started reading, but found that the whiny college freshman POV was not for me. However, I’ve heard great things elsewhere, and I only read a couple of chapters, so please comment if you think I dropped it too soon!
Then I got my daughter to help dip the fries in yogurt and roll in breading. We baked them for about 20 minutes on parchment paper- they browned up pretty fast – and dipped in pizza sauce to serve. Yum!
After a three-week dry spell, I finally got a library hold in! The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. This is normally NOT something I’d pick by either title or cover, but it was warmly recommended by Annie at The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia on her podcast From the Front Porch. Also, it’s supposed to have a retro 90’s thing going on, which I imagine could be comforting (amidst all the vampire slaying, of course).
In addition to my one lonely hold, I also checked out The Making of Home by Judith Flanders. This author (though not the book) was recommended by another blogger, and I’m so frustrated with myself for not remembering which one. If it was you – please comment!
In The Making of Home, Flanders traces the evolution of the house across northern Europe and America from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, and paints a striking picture of how the homes we know today differ from homes through history.
Finally, while it’s not quite library loot, I am finishing up reading a physical ex-library copy of The Proud Villeins by Valerie Anand (Fiona Buckley) and can’t wait to share it with you! For now, I’ll just say that I’m enjoying reading historical fiction again – this one hits my sweet spot for detail without being too heavy. And the author has a huge backlist!
She was instrumental in starting a library in the rural Eastern Kentucky county where she lived, and beginning in 1954, drove a bookmobile to isolated areas for years. That’s her below, peeking out the bookmobile door:
My dad remembers:
I still remember riding that little green bookmobile during summer break, the acrid smell of the dusty roads the doors couldn’t seal out, and stopping at the narrow rutted entrance to an eastern Kentucky holler. “Why are we stopping?” “We can’t make it up that road. They’ll come.” And sure enough, ten or twenty kids and a few parents would come boiling out of the holler laughing and gleefully anticipating the worldly pleasures of BOOKS!!!
But that isn’t my story to tell.
My story is in the eighties, when Granny was librarian at a beautiful new-ish (1967) library in town. I would spend a few days with her, a week in the summer, and go to work alongside her as a little librarian. Yes, I was seven – ten – twelve years old, but I could stamp library cards and shelve books with the best of them. Sometimes there were other kids at the library… and sometimes I had the entire shelf of yellow-spined Nancy Drews and the reading corner to myself.
The best moments of all, though, were sitting behind the tall checkout desk on my stool, carefully inking my date stamp and pressing it twice – once into the card pocket and again onto the card. I still love the satisfying smack of a stamper – modern libraries with their sterile beeps aren’t quite the same without it.
In future entries, I’ll dig deeper into my memories helping my granny at the library.