The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible LibraryThis book caught my eye due to many things, but mostly that title, let’s be honest. An invisible library?? And then the descriptions promised librarians hunting down books across universes and I was SO SOLD.

When I started reading the book, though, I was torn. It starts off strong, with a Librarian hunting down a sneaky book in a magician’s boarding school and then returning to the Library to find yet more weirdness afoot. But then that weirdness leads to a posting in a quasi-steampunk-Victorian universe and I was like, well, at least that first part was good while it lasted.

I probably would have given up the book then, but I was off at a conference and not only was it the only print book I’d brought with me, but my hotel roommate was so excited that I was reading it that I figured I’d at least get far enough to give her a recommendation. And then I read the whole thing.

The Victorian-ness was still pretty meh, but once the book gets past building that setting it’s mostly all whiz-bang magic and sorcery and intrigue and subterfuge, so it’s A-OK in my book.

Aside from that setting, there’s also the setting of the Library itself, which exists between worlds and universes and collects books from all of them ostensibly to have a collection of ALL THE BOOKS and also to bring these universes closer together and to the Library and bring stability to the multiverse or whatever. This is much more interesting but very little explained, but I’m guessing that’ll change in future books (yay series!).

The actual story is about a Librarian named Irene who, after escaping that Hogwarts analogue, finds herself tasked with taking a relatively new recruit, Kai, into his first field assignment to recover a book of Grimm’s fairy tales. Said field assignment is in a place where magic and science coexist, but not peacefully, and Irene and Kai soon figure out that they are not the only weird powered creatures seeking the same book. Even worse, one of those people may be a mysterious, mythical turn-coat Librarian whose very name scares the pants off of most Librarians.

It’s a pretty standard story, but this is one of those books that recognizes that it’s got a pretty standard story, and in fact plays not only with the tropes of fantasy stories but with the conventions of literature in general, using them to help shape the story. It works fairly well, too, and even when it doesn’t quite work I’m always apt to find it entertaining.

All in all I ended up quite enjoying myself with this book, and I will probably seek out its sequel when that’s published here in the US later this year (darn you, UK originals!).

Recommendation: If you like magic and fairy tales and libraries and have a healthy appreciation of librarian stereotypes, you should probably seek this out.

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This Book is Overdue, by Marilyn Johnson

This Book is OverdueSo this is a book that came out almost exactly two years ago, while I was still in library school, and so I heard lots of good things about it — after all, the subtitle is “How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.” How do you get a better endorsement than that? But I was busy, like, passing library school, so I never got around to it until I found it on OverDrive and decided it would be a good way to kill a few cataloging hours.

And it was, mostly. Johnson is not a librarian, but she spent a good deal of time shadowing/stalking/hanging out with librarians for the book, so she has a good perspective on how libraries are awesome but also have their problems. In this regard, I particularly liked a section where she talks about a library getting a big computer upgrade and the librarians being absolutely friendly to all the patrons and then making mean faces at the IT guys who in turn were like, “Shut up, librarians.” As they should. Or the story of the Connecticut librarians who went up against the FBI over the Patriot Act, which made both me and my law-student husband just slack-jawed in disbelief.

Johnson also has fun being amazed at the variety of librarians and libraries that exist, which is fantastic and even I learned some new stuff there. Unfortunately, Johnson also falls into that “these are not your grandma’s librarians!” trap wherein she gives a description of every librarian to prove that they don’t all wear their hair in buns or whatever, which… whatever.

One of the problems with reading this book two years later is that it’s a bit… dated. The longest chapter by far is the one on Second Life, which may still be popular in its own little circle but I have not gotten an invite to an SL library party in ages, and in fact I had almost forgotten about the thing entirely. But Johnson loves it, or did then, at least, and so she goes into great detail about the clothes she picks out for her avatar to wear and how she goes to the different places and meets people and “dances” with them and I am like omg get on with it and then there’s some interesting stuff about people who are librarians in Second Life (if not always in real life) and so that’s cool but then she goes off on this tangent about some sexually ambiguous librarian who intrigued and confused her. As you do? I don’t know. It got a little out of hand there.

The fact that that part of the chapter was even in there is testament to how little focus this book has. It waffles between being a study of libraries and librarians, a love letter to libraries and librarians, and a wide-eyed look at fancy technology (Second Life, of course, but also blogs and Wiis), and it just never struck the right balance for me.

Maybe it’s because I am a librarian, so I had more familiarity with Johnson’s topics and a bit of in-the-loop disdain for those outside of it? That’s probably at least part of it. I can imagine that if you aren’t a library person a lot of this might be new and interesting to you, although on the other hand you might just be like “who cares.” So… read it if you care?

Rating: 6/10

The Penultimate Peril and The End, by Lemony Snicket

Normally I would do two separate posts for two separate books, but then there would be two short and boring posts about these books, and I promised to be more generally awesome this year, so you’re going to get just one slightly longer and hopefully slightly less boring post about these books.

Okay, so, the Baudelaires. When we last left them, they were eating some horseradish. Mmmm, horseradish.

The Penultimate PerilIn The Penultimate Peril there is less horseradish, but more AWESOME LIBRARY, so this is a good trade here. This book takes place in the Hotel Denouement, or the tnemeuoneD letoH as it actually says on said hotel, and this building has nine floors and a basement whose rooms are arranged in Dewey Decimal order, which is just fantastic. I had fun trying to guess what numbers Daniel Handler would pick for the various characters’ rooms, which is extremely nerdy but I am totally okay with this. Anyway, library shenanigans aside, this book introduces some new characters (particularly a second set of twins who are actually triplets) but mostly does a roundup of all the surviving characters from the previous books, the conceit being that they’ve all arrived at the hotel to take part in a trial of the Baudelaires. The idea is that they’ll get exonerated of all the stuff they’ve been blamed for but haven’t done, but the orphans have done plenty of bad things themselves (like using disguises!), so they’re not sure they’re really on good footing, here. And then of course completely ridiculous things happen and the trial is disrupted and then the orphans set the hotel on fire and end up out to sea. As it goes.

The EndAnd so then in The End the Baudelaires wash up on a coastal shelf that is inhabited by a sort of utopian community, whose members are only not quite as stupid as the rest of the Baudelaire’s world in that they can recognize and dislike Count Olaf, who has washed ashore as well. But unfortunately they are all boozed up beyond belief and also completely bogged down in stupid stupid rules, and so they are of no help to the Baudelaires in either staying safe on the island or getting off of it. And then the Medusoid Mycelium shows up again and bad things happen and good things are prevented and more people die whether you want them to or not and then there is an epilogue and then I am like… sigh.

While we were listening to these Scott kept mentioning that Handler must have been being paid by the word because he just gets so incredibly repetitive and tangential and loses track of the plot quite often, and I was like, “Nooooo it’s awesome just enjoy it” but secretly (or, well, not-so-secretly), I totally agree. I enjoyed the heck out of this series when I read it, but I think I must have skipped over these parts or just blocked them from my mind, because damn, those passages are super boring.

I really loved the beginning of this series, but the end is just not the same at all and I’m finding myself really recommending against reading these last books. But I also can’t figure out where you should stop reading the series, because all of the books have their excellent parts that are totally worth it. So maybe you could just skim through the print versions and read the good parts and not the bad parts. You’ll finish in a few hours that way. Or, you could read the series to a member of its target audience, i.e. short people, and then their enthusiasm for the repetitiveness will make you smile instead of bang your head against the wall.

Ratings: Really a 7/10 for both, but PP gets 8/10 for library awesomeness and TE 6/10 for awful awful epilogue

Musing Mondays (3 August)

Today’s Musing Mondays is a library meme! What fun!

Library Habits meme:
1) If you don’t frequent your local library, why not? Totally not applicable.
2) If you do visit the library, how often do you go? I go at least once a week, sometimes more if my holds come in at weird times. I also visit my university library twice a week since my LIS classes are there. 🙂
3) Do you have a favorite section that you always head to first, or do you just randomly peruse the shelves? I always hit up the new general fiction section and then the new mystery and new sci-fi/fantasy, because they’re all right in the same area. And then I go rescue Scott out of the A/V department, but usually we end up picking out a movie or two before I can drag him away! When I can’t find a handful of books downstairs, I head up to the fiction stacks and wander around hoping a cover will strike my fancy, or I’ll track down a librarian and ask what books s/he recommends.
4) How many books are you allowed to check out at one time? Do you take advantage of this? I can check out either 50 items or $1000 worth of items, whichever I rack up first. I can’t say that I’ve ever checked out so much! The most I’ve checked out in recent memory is somewhere around 15 books and movies. It helps that I stagger my check-outs, I think, but it hurts that I renew things all the time.
5) How long are you allowed to have the books checked out? Most books are three weeks; the official “new books” that you can’t put a hold on or renew are two weeks. DVDs and such are one week.
6) How many times are you allowed to renew your check-outs, if at all? This is what I love about my library! I can renew my books (as long as there aren’t holds on them and they’re not “new books”) up to five times, which means that I don’t usually have to worry about reading books immediately. Of course, this means that I have, at times, kept library books for nearly four months before returning them, and once I even returned such a book unread! Oh, the horror.
7) What do you love best about your particular library? I really like that the holds and the checkout system are self-serve; I can walk into the library, grab my books off the shelf, scan my books, and be out in five minutes… if I want to be, which isn’t often.
8) What is one thing you wish your library did differently? Hmm. I guess I wish there were more reading groups for adults; the ones they have, if they’re my cup of tea, meet when I’m not available and that makes me sad. I really like talking about books with people. (I know, shocking!)
9) Do you request your books via an online catalogue, or through the librarian at your branch? I do all my requesting online, because I tend to find the books I want to request online and it’s just all convenient and stuff.
10) Have you ever chosen a book on impulse (from the online catalogue OR the shelves) and had it turn out to be totally amazing? If so, what book was it, and why did you love it? Oh, look, an impulse picks tag! There aren’t many, since you all do such a good job of giving me books to read, but there are a few. The one I really really really liked is called The Palace of Illusions and it was just a great little book that spoils its own ending from the start and yet somehow had me still reading to the end. But I won’t recommend it, so it can be your impulse pick, too!

Musing Mondays (6 July)

Today’s Musing Mondays question: “Who, if anyone usually accompanies you to the library? Is it somewhere you go alone? Or is it a regular outing with family or friends? Which do you prefer?”

Because I’m lame (and possibly because I love him a bunch!), I pretty much always go with my fiancée, Scott, to the library. Sometimes I’ll stop in on my own to pick up holds and whatnot, but generally it’s a family affair. I go and get books, Scott whines that his audiobooks haven’t been returned yet (seriously, the fines some people must have on these things!), and then we both dip into the A/V section to check out the movie selection. We’ve been watching a lot of movies lately; they’re not all good, but they’re all free!

Bookhunter, by Jason Shiga (20 June)

These graphic novel things are starting to grow on me. I don’t think I’m ready for any big-kid books, like Watchmen and the like, but I’m getting there!

So this is a nice, short, simple-drawing book about the library police. No, really. I saw this description of it while plowing through the Unshelved archives (excellent comic, p.s., you should also go plow through the archives), and I was, to say the least, intrigued. Library police? Concentric locked-room mysteries?? Library police??? How can I join?

And, happily, it was a good time. We get what seems to be a cold open with the library police tracking down a guy who is stealing all the copies of one particular book from the Oakland Public Library. Agent Bay and his team bust in and totally get the guy, but then we don’t care about him anymore and we move on to the main story. In this, there’s a Bible missing and the OPL needs Bay to recover it before it has to be returned to the Library of Congress. Only… it was stolen from a safe that has not been obviously cracked. And the book is only in the safe at night, but there’s also no sign that the thief broke into or out of the library. Which means the book must have left during the day, but without triggering the anti-theft alarms at the doors. An exhausting riddle!

Best of all, the book is set in 1973, so Bay solves the mystery with the help of microfilm and a giant card catalog. Can’t go wrong with that.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007)