To Libraries, With Love

From time to time [Abdel Kader Haidara] consulted books about Islamic jurisprudence, the fikh, in his own collection when confronted with thorny problems in his marriage and his work. But religion did not play a major role in his life. What drove him most was a belief in the power of the written word — the rich variety of human experience and ideas contained between the covers of a book.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of TimbuktuJoshua Hammer

I still have a literary hangover from Haidara and Touré, bad-ass librarians from Timbuktu who saved and preserved manuscripts amidst a civil war in Mali. The term librarian these days brings to mind an image of a stern, bookish woman, complete with glasses and a cardigan — just like Jane (Marcia Gay Harden) in the movie After Words (2015). Sure, it casts Harden as the most stereotypical librarian ever (she lives with her cat) but there was a rhythm of hers that I enjoyed: the quiet stack of books next to bed, the solitude, the worlds that lay after each page. But she was lonely. She was alone. She flies to Costa Rica on a one-way ticket after being laid off and in typical Eat, Pray, Love fashion she finds herself (along with adventure and romance).

Sure, we can roll our eyes in unison with the antiquated portrayal of our most beloved librarians in this movie. What’s important to me though was her losing her job. In this time and age, do we still need librarians? And what’s the future of libraries?

For centuries, the librarian’s job was providing scarce information to dependent patrons. Now, the job is helping patrons navigate superabundant information of wildly varying quality and uncertain provenance.

For better or worse, the digital age forces experts to make the case that a Google search doesn’t replace the librarian, and WebMD doesn’t replace the doctor.

–Robert Graboyes, PBS

I came across a discussion about libraries and its influence on a group of writers: Tessa Hadley, C.E. Morgan and Jerry Pinto with John Donatich. The discussion had so many points I resonated with: libraries as sacred temples, a place for initiation, the toss-up between borrowing books vs. owning them, books as work spaces, access and mobility…

I was thinking how when I used to—and I still go to the library—take a book out. At first, you’re a little shy and a little squeamish, but then as you get into the book, the presence of previous readers in that book, with the way the spine cracks, and the way that’s something sticky on page 147 that you’re not going to question too carefully, and the way the pages wrinkle, and the smells of other people’s homes . . . you realize that the book is such an intimate thing. It’s something you befriend. It’s something you live with.

–John Donatich, Lithub

When I was in Puerto Rico over the summer, I passed by Libros Libres on Calle Loiza. It was a free library complete on what seemed to be an abandoned building smack dab on a busy street. I browsed through its makeshift shelves: there were encyclopedias, old textbooks, a few American paperbacks and a particular title by Mitch Albom that my partner found. I was absolutely elated.

A little research revealed that the following bad-ass folks were behind the project: Edward Benson, Nina Coll and Zevio Schnitzer.

I think exchanging books and reading is another way to make [a] country, another way of relating and disconnect some of the Internet to connect to the walls of this wall and interact with books.

–Nina Coll, El Nuevo Dia


An Ode to the Books We Love

I’ve been immersed in Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu this past week, learning about manuscripts found in West Africa and across the Sahara desert as Abdel Haidara, the main character, pursues their preservation and restoration.

His search for scrolls in homes — whether they are lavish family estates or mud huts in tribal areas of Mali — continue to elicit a deep well of tenderness within me for the written word.

Some weekends ago, my mom asked me if I should throw away books I don’t read anymore; books that weren’t being read anymore, seemingly unloved should not take up physical space. I gave her a deranged look as I ran my fingers over spines of well-loved books: Zami by Audre Lorde, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, Sula by Toni Morrison.

If there’s anything that running this blog has taught me, it’s that there is a unique, multilayered experience that one goes through while reading a particular book, one that is almost spiritual. It is the same sentiment I had while reading books I’ve written about:

In this video from The School of Life, philosopher Alain de Botton (my favorite!) lends insight into why we love certain books — and why certain books seem to know more about us than we do, our own selves:

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My review for Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu comes out in two days — don’t miss it and sign up for Libromance (click the “Follow” button on the bottom right corner of this site)!