Cruising the Library

Melissa Adler

When I was of college age in the early 1970s, a friend was taking a class called ‘Deviant Behavior.’ It explored various groups from homosexuals to the Gray Panthers. I asked her who defined the norm? She looked at me as if I had two heads, and she never really understood the question.

In my asking, though, I had unwittingly placed my finger on the difficulty. If you have the power to define what is ‘normal,’ you have the power to label anything else as deviant. The Library of Congress took it one step further when it came to sexual behavior, pathologizing anything but heterosexual behavior as perverse and deviant.

Subject headings, including homosexuality or fetishm, cross-dressing or drag queens, would be found grouped under the head of paraphilias, a medical term used by psychiatrists to label deviant behavior. Even literary works, which had nothing to do with medicine were classified there. The books themselves might be kept in the Delta Collection, with access limited to law-enforcement personnel or legislators involved in obscenity laws.

The power of an organization such as the Library of Congress is explored. The struggles of people, ordinary people, living ordinary lives accepted today as ‘normal,’ to be accepted by the Library of Congress, make up the bulk of this fascinating and readable book.

 

Faro’s Daughter

Georgette Heyer

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About five years ago, I made one of the best purchases. Georgette Heyer’s books became available for Kindle for $1.99 each. I don’t care for her historicals or her mysteries, but her Regency and Georgian romances are the best, so I bought 27 of them. Some titles I had already purchased for $8.99 or $9.99 so this was quite a bargain. I’ve been reading Heyer since high school and never tire of her stories. This one was new to me, and I found it delightful.

The ending was a little abrupt, with the hero clasping the heroine in his arms, and her melting all over him. She didn’t really do a good job laying a foundation for this climax, and it seemed a little rushed and too pat, but the rest of the book was good enough for me to overlook it. That being said, this is not one of my favorite Heyer romances, and it will be a long time until it gets a reread. I’m sure I’ll be rereading These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub long before this one. Still, it was nice to discover a Heyer I hadn’t read before.

Delights and Prejudices

James Beard

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This book, written in 1964, hasn’t aged well. As a memoir with recipes, it fulfills neither of its functions very well. His memories of his mother, who introduced him to great cooking and set him on his way, are interrupted by rambling accounts of his travels and later experiences as a chef and writer. The recipes are dated and the memoir is unsatisfying. I know James Beard’s place in the pantheon is cook is secure, but this book made me wonder why.

Brittania Mews

Margery Sharp

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This delightful story, written in 1946, is as fresh and entertaining today as when it was written. The life story of Adelaide Culver is intertwined with the progress of the Mews from horse stable to fashionable address from Victorian times to post-war Britain. Through it all, fiercely independent Adelaide makes her own way, from young girl to elderly women without fear or favor of anyone.

Margery Sharp is a treasure.

A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway

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Paris in the 1920s was a magical time for Hemingway. He and his first wife Hadley lived very frugally, but his lack of cash was more than compensated for by the richness of the people who moved through his life: Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, were just some of the people Hemingway interacted with.

This classic made Paris seem the romantic ideal for starving artists. It is a nostalgic look back at a time gone forever, but is not sentimental. A lovely look at at lovely time in an artist’s live.

The Beast

Faye Kellerman

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When the stench coming from Hobart Penny’s apartment is bad enough to cause a neighbor to call the police department, Lieutenant Decker isn’t surprised to find that Mr Penny has shuffled this mortal coil. The live tiger in the apartment is a different challenge.

This leads to one of Decker’s most bizarre cases. The live tiger is just the tip of the iceberg as Decker delves into what becomes a cold case of murder as well as the fresh one. Complicating life is the challenge of raising a young piano prodigy with his love for a underage girl and her overprotective mother.

Decker handles both the challenges with his usual aplomb, but it’s beginning to tell on him. Is he ready to retire?

When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

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When Dr Kalanithi is diagnosed with a lung tumor, he doesn’t have the respite we have of a period of denial and hope. He recognizes it for the death sentence it is. He continues to fight for the slim chance of survival and manages to graduate from his residency program before succumbing to the disease.

Along the way he is objective and detached, listing each clinical symptom and his body’s response. I felt equally detached from his illness. He didn’t live lone enough to finish the book, and it is the wife’s epilogue that brought me to tears.

What a pity he never got to practice what he had spent 10 years learning to do. He never had the opportunity to help people and to teach other doctors to do the same. He died as a resident, never an attending, and the world is a poorer place because of it.

Their Was the Kingdom

R.L. Delderfield

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This is the second of three novels telling the epic story of the Swann family: mother, father, and nine children. The parents have hopes and dreams for the children but allow them the freedom to find their own way, make their own mistakes, and finally come back to the family.

I love stories set in the Victorian period, and this is one of the best. The patriarch Adam Swann struggle as much against the constraints of the society as he does against the challenges of growing a business. When he is injured in a train accident and loses a leg, it is his wife who teams up with one of his female employees to run his business and keep it going until he returns.

Each family member gets his attention, 768 pages worth. Now I’m on to read Give Us This Day to see how it all wraps up.

 

Saville

David Storey

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I am up to 1976 in my quest to read all the Booker Prize winners.

This is not a book I would ever have chosen to read, but I’m glad I did. It is the story of one young man’s efforts to ‘better himself,’ largely to the pressure put upon him by his father, a miner, who wants something else for his son. The result is a young man who is not at home in his world.

The novel is very much about class. The protagonist cannot be content in his father’s world of working in a mine, living in housing provided for him and his family. But he is not at home in the middle class, either. The world of teaching is wrong for him; the world of physical labor is closed to him. As a result, he a restless spirit doomed to be unhappy wherever he is.

I think he should move to America.