Over the past week, I've had three startlingly personal comments said to me at work. The first was from a man who looks like a cross between Merida's father Angus from the movie Brave and Lisbeth's social worker from Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Maybe because I have helped him before (by recommending some lesser-read but still good fantasy and science fiction titles), he felt totally comfortable commenting on my new black-and-grey floral-print pants. "If you were trying to draw attention to your legs," he said, "you're doing a great job."
Yes, a little more Dragon Tattoo-ish than I'd like.
Another patron admired my boots. Like...gushed for a couple of minutes. And then she said "My husband thinks that girls in Dr. Martens are hot."
Ummmm. I'm not sure I qualify for the "girl" department anymore, and I, well, I just don't know what to say to that.
Then there was the patron who approached me while I was putting out some books on the New Book display. "I think you should know that I think you are really pretty," she said, "but you also look sad." I wanted to think that was something nice and thoughtful—but it still felt awkward. Maybe because "pretty/sad" is totally not how I dressed that day. Or maybe because I was crouched down to access the very bottom shelf and I was worrying that my shirt might've slid up over the top of my jeans and I was possibly exposing that lovely stretch of back fat that's right over one's butt? I don't know.
Overly personal comments: not my favorite part of working with the public.
One thing I do love about my job, though, is stocking the display shelves. Display shelves (or sometimes tables) hold books that librarians have picked out, the ones we think you'll really like. Usually there is a theme to the display shelves. In my library, for example, we have displays for historical fiction, speculative fiction, gentle reads, science, history, art, and the ever-popular "You Wrote a Book About What?" shelf. There are display shelves for new fiction and non fiction, and each of the librarians has his or her own display shelf.
Filling up the display shelves is one of my favorite parts of my job. Partly it's sort of an ego rush: I still, nearly five years later, get a little happy shiver when I see someone pick up a book from my display. It's an act of faith in a person, when you stop to think about it, trusting them enough to spend all that time with a book they recommend. I only put out books that I really, really liked on my display, and I try to remember the more obscure or slightly odd things I've loved. Like The Changeling of Finnistuath, a book I read when I was teaching—back when my awesome boots were brand new!—and have been haunted by ever since. (Kate Horsley, why haven't you written a new novel in so long? I'd read it, especially if it were set in ancient Celtic times.) Collections of essays. Strong, accessible poetry books. Even a few graphic novels. Of course, lots of Atwood and Hoffman and Kingsolver and LeGuin.
But I also like stocking the other shelves (except for the Gentle Reads one...as I'm not generally a reader of cozy novels nor highly concerned that my books be squeaky-clean, I have a persistent worry, finding Gentle books, that I'm unwittingly corrupting some poor old woman with swear words and naughty bits). Not all the books I put on these shelves are books I've read. Most often, they're books I want to read. (As my current "want to read" list is hovering at about 87 titles, this is a deep resource.) Spreading the books I want to read throughout the library is curiously pleasant. It stills that very old and persistent need to take home every book I find and love. I might not be able to read the books I put on the Social Sciences display shelf today, including The Ragged Edge of the World (about how society encroaches on wilderness), The Winter of our Disconnect (about a family who disconnected from almost everything requiring electricity for a year), The Good Daughter (about the writer Jasmin Darznik, who uncovers her mother's secrets after finding a wedding photograph of her—with a man not Jasmin's father), or The Other Wes Moore (about two men who are named Wes Moore and how different their lives are), but I want to, and it makes me feel like an itch has been scratched, knowing that at least someone else will read them.
"People say life is the thing, but I prefer reading." Someone named Logan Pearsall Smith said that, and sometimes I completely agree with him. I'm not always immersed in a book as in—I'm sitting down and reading something. But I'm always reading something, immersed in the story which I've paused by putting down the book while I live my life. And I do have other interests as well; as much as I love books, I think my life would be less rich without things like, you know, the people I love, and running and hiking and taking pictures and thinking and writing. Then again, that desire to be reading something is always there—and it's more bearable if I know that someone, somewhere in my town, is reading something I recommended.
What have you read lately that I should recommend to someone else?