I read a very good book last spring, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. It’s a World War II novel about two sisters in occupied France. One of them, the “Nightingale” in the title, finds her life’s purpose (and her estranged father’s as well) by leading downed British airmen on the dangerous trek across the Pyrenees to Spain and safety.
I liked the book so much that when I was visiting my daughter in San Francisco I told her she should read it. We went to her local branch of the San Francisco Public Library and asked if they had the book. The librarian consulted her computer and told us, “It’s a hot book. We have fifty copies in circulation and 127 people on the waiting list.” My daughter became number 128.
Then, early this summer, a friend with good taste in books told me I should read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I went into the Jaffrey Public Library and checked it out. Easy peasy. I started the book which, coincidentally, also takes place in part in occupied France. I got halfway through it when the library notified me that it was due and someone was waiting for it.
This posed an ethical dilemma. I was loving the book but, slow reader that I am, still had a long way to go. The Jaffrey library does not charge fines for overdue books, so it wasn’t costing me anything to make whoever was waiting wait for however long it took me to finish the book.
Still, that sort of library lawlessness didn’t seem right, so I came up with plan B. I would check the book out of the Keene library and then return my overdue copy in Jaffrey. When I asked the Keene librarian about an available copy she did what all librarians do nowadays. She looked on the computer. “We have five copies in circulation,” she told me, “and 58 people waiting for the book.
“I guess it’s a hot book,” I said, thinking about my next move.
I returned the unfinished book in Jaffrey and immediately went on the waiting list. “I’ll fill in with something else,” I told myself, unhappily.
The next day, however, I decided to try Plan C – the Boston Public Library branch near my office. As you can see, I move around and have quite a few library cards. Of course I could just buy the book, but the Pianist says we have no more bookcase space, and she’s right. So I asked the latest in this series of librarians and she did what the others did, with the same result, although worse. “We have 127 copies in circulation,” she told me, “and 538 people on the waiting list.”
I’ll admit it. I’m out of options, so I intend to wait my turn in Jaffrey and, meanwhile, go back to another unfinished book, Citizens of London by Lynne Olson. This is a book about three men who played a crucial role in persuading President Roosevelt to join forces with Churchill to save England from Hitler. One of them was three-time New Hampshire Governor John Gilbert Winant. Somehow, despite growing up in New Hampshire and spending a lot of my adult life in my home state, I have never heard of this man, much less the crucial role he played as our ambassador to the Court of St. James. Incidentally, the book includes the interesting fact that he had an affair with Churchill’s daughter, Sarah.
I’m not concerned about having the library snap Citizens away from me. I own it.
As for All the Light We Cannot See, I noted that it is on President Obama’s summer reading list as well. The newspaper didn’t say how he got the book, but I don’t suppose he will need to give it up half way through.