Books, books, books

One of things I”ve been doing more of lately is reading. I’ve always been big into reading, but finding time (and for while there the energy) to read has been difficult at times. In a normal day, I find time to read a few pages of something before I go to sleep, but one doesn’t accomplish much reading this way.

I recently started using the library a lot, though, and this has helped me make time for reading. After all, when you have a book for a limited period of time, you must commit yourself to it.

In my younger, poorer days, I used the library all the time. About every 2 weeks, I’d stop at the beautiful, main library (the Harold Washington Library Center) after work. I’d drop off the books I had finished reading and browse for new books. The library was only open late 2 nights a week, so I had to plan my book excursions carefully. Also, while I could look up books in their online catalog, it was a hit or miss proposition as to whether the book was actually there. And it if wasn’t showing as being there, well, the best I could do to plan for getting the book I wanted was to fill out a hold slip.

This made really using the library to my best advantage a bit cumbersome. As long as I had little money, I would make it work for me. But, as I moved up the income scale, I often found it easier to buy books at the bookstore. Now, though, services have changed for the better in a big way.

First of all, I can not only look up materials in their catalog online, I can place them on hold for pick up at the branch library of my choice. I get an email notification that the item is ready for pick up and am given several days to do so. The branches are open until 9 PM every week night, so it’s not hard to make time to drop by. I can renew the item online, too.

This is a fabulous service, and I am really, really happy to see my tax dollars being used this way! Way to go Chicago Public Library!

So, I’ve been taking good advantage of this service. If I hear about a book that sounds interesting (through a podcast or a friend or a website) I look it up. I have yet to run across a book that is not already in the catalog, and once I locate it I place it on hold. Within a week or two, I get to pick it up and enjoy it.

Obviously, there’s still some planning involved here, but it’s no more complicated than handling a Netflix queue. You just keep placing books on hold and by the time you’re done with one and ready to drop it off, there’s a new one waiting for you to pick up. So neat and efficient it makes me want to squee. Plus, I can get to the local branch library in about 7 minutes on my bicycle, so it’s another reason to get out there and pedal.

I’m usually a big consumer of fiction, but lately I’ve been getting into a mix of stuff. In the past month, I’ve read Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (a memoir about growing up in Botswana which gets a definite thumbs up: a good story that was entertaining and intriguing), The Thyroid Diet (some useful info, but nothing too surprising), and Suite Francaise.

I just finished the last few pages of Suite Francaise today, and I must say that the end material made the book especially poignant. The English translation is very thoughtully put together with a short introduction followed by the two novellas (Storm in June and Dolce), and then some appendices. It’s in the appendices that we get to really connect with the writer herself, Irene Nemirovsky.

After reading just a few pages of the novel, I sampled a few pages from the first appendix, which was derived from her notes on the book. But I quickly realized that it was best to wait until after I had finished the story so I could better understand the characters she mentions and how they fit in. In these notes and in her letters in the following appendix, it is clear that Irene realized that as a foreign-born Jew her position in occupied France was quite tenuous.

The truly heart-breaking part of the book is in Appendix II, which contains personal correspondence relating to Irene’s situation from 1936 through the end of the war. It’s incredibly sad to read the emploring letters of her husband seeking some information on the whereabouts of his wife. Irene was suddenly taken to a concentration camp in July 1942 and was dead one month later. Even worse, her husband is picked up in October 1942 and sent immediately to the gas chamber, leaving their 2 children orphaned and on the run.

The story itself is very compelling and it would have been such an incredible novel in total if she had been able to finish it. It is also sobering. It made me reflect not just on this time period, but also today.

We are so lucky not to have lived through an experience like this, nor to be so threatened. I know today is a day of memorials in this country, but even this most painful experience for our country’s psyche is nothing like living through a war on our own soil, experiencing the depravations, disgrace, and duplicity of living in an occupied country.

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3 thoughts on “Books, books, books

  1. I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site http://www.mjhnyc.org.

    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Tracy Bradshaw at 646.437.4304 or tbradshaw@mjhnyc.org. Please visit our website at http://www.mjhnyc.org for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more information, please contact me at hfurst@mjhnyc.org.

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