I picked up In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians, a short story collection edited by Michael Cart last week in the library, when I was looking for Tove Jansson's A Winter Book, which, being a short story collection, I was looking for amongst the short story volumes. I found both books and brought the Cart collection home with some curiosity.
This is an anthology of short stories in defence of libraries, librarians and reading by some great storytellers, including Italo Calvino, Alice Munro, Ursula Le Guin, Jorge Luis Borges, and H H Munro (better known as Saki).
My favourite stories were:
Italo Calvino's "A General in the Library" which begins:
One day, in the illustrious nation of Panduria, a suspicion crept into the minds of top officials: that books contained opinions hostile to military prestige. In fact trials and enquiries had revealed that the tendency, now so widespread, of thinking of general s as people actually capable of making mistakes and causing catastrophes, and of wars as things that did not always amount to splendid cavalry charges towards a glorious destiny, was shared by a large number of books, ancient and modern, foreign and Pandurese. (p. 13)
If you're not hooked by that first paragraph, then it's probable that you've not been following world news. Can the books reform Panduria ? Well no, this story is too realistic for that, but the long-suffering, ever-dutiful and very clever librarian, Signor Crispino, does succeed in acquiring a number of new patrons at the library as a result of the investigation, whilst the military loses several officers.
Walter R Brooks' "Ed Has His Mind Improved": Ed the horse has learned to read, but when his owner, Mr. Pope, leaves town for ten days, Mrs. Pope has all the books that were kept in the barn for him returned to the library. Ed simply can't bear the idea of being without reading material for 10 days, so he heads off to the public library on his own. His thirst for literature is supported by the librarian, Miss Sigsbee, but is less popular with the library's Trustees !
Ray Bradbury's "Exchange" may be too sentimental for some readers, although I found it touching. This story records a conversation between an elderly female librarian and a former library patron, who's now an Army officer. Here are a few of their lines:
"Don't mind me, Miss Adams. You smell new books? ... Like fresh bread when you're hungry."
"Was I lot of trouble?" "Yes ... a fiend ... But I loved you."
" ... when I was a boy I used to look up and see you behind your desk, so near but far away, and ... I used to think that you were Mrs. God, and that the library was a whole world."
"Most libraries today, too much light. There should be shadows, don't you think? ... So that late nights the beasts can prowl out of the stacks and crouch by this jungle light to turn the pages with their breath."