January 7, 2007

Vanity of the Bonfires?

The Fairfax County Public Library system in Virginia has decided to let the free market rule all. Supposedly, books that aren't checked out for two years are ruthlessly pruned to make room for the latest best sellers. The Library partly denies this charge. Here's a list of some of the works that are in the dumpster:
The Works of Aristotle Aristotle (Centreville)
Sexual Politics Kate Millett (Centreville)
The Great Philosophers, Karl Jaspers (Centreville)
Carry Me Home, Diane McWhorter (Centreville)
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (George Mason Regional)
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (George Mason Regional)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (George Mason Regional)
Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac (George Mason Regional)
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (George Mason Regional)
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (George Mason Regional)
Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Maya Angelou (Chantilly Regional)
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (Chantilly Regional)
Writings, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Chantilly Regional)
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (Chantilly Regional)
Great Issues in American History, Richard Hofstadter (Chantilly Regional)
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Pohick Regional)
Babylon Revisited: And Other Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Reston Regional)
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Reston Regional)
The Aeneid, Virgil (Sherwood Regional)
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (Fairfax City Regional
Hmm. What's on the best seller list these days? Here's Publisher's Weekly's list for January 8, 2007:
Hardcover Fiction
1. For One More Day. Albom, Mitch
2. Next. Crichton, Michael
3. Cross. Patterson
4. Shadow Dance. Garwood, Julie
5. Hannibal Rising. Harris, Thomas

Hardcover Nonfiction
1. You: On a Diet. Roizen, Michael F.,
2. The Audacity of Hope. Obama, Barack
3. The Innocent Man. Grisham, John
4. Marley and Me. Grogan, John
5. Culture Warrior. O'Reilly, Bill,

Mass Market Paperback
1. Slow Burn. Garwood, Julie
2. The Last Templar. Khoury
3. S Is for Silence. Grafton
4. Honeymoon. James Pattterson and Howard Roughan
5. Gone. GARDNER, Lisa

Trade Paperback
1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Edwards
2. Running with Scissors. Burroughs, Augusten
3. The Tenth Circle. Picoult, Jodi
4. The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardner
5. The Alchemist. Coelho, Paulo
Jon Swift's post on all this is very funny.

Bookish child that I was, I spent a lot of time in the 96th Street branch of the New York Public Library. I remember always passing a store that had beakers and retorts filled with strange liquids in the window. It was a "make your own booze" store that seemed to date back to Prohibition. It was always empty. No doubt it's a tanning salon now.

But I digress. Libraries, starting with 96th Street, have been a refuge for me. Some were great, like the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Andover. Some were like the New Orleans Public Library (which has special problems of its own these days), my branch of which was in a wonderful old building, but had a bizarre collection. The Orange County Public Library has a randomly very strange and inconsistent collection, but is very well run -- you can order books from any branch, which helps, because our local branch doesn't have much of interest.

The Fairfax policy raises all kinds of questions:
  • Should libraries be governed exclusively by what the public borrows at any given time?

  • If so, what time horizon should they use?

  • If libraries are repositories, does it matter at all what people want to read?

  • If the public taste governs, should museums exhibit more of The Painter of Light?

  • If the gummint encourages people not to smoke and not to eat trans fats, should it encourage people to read what's good for them?

  • If classics are available on line, do we care that you might not find one in the public library around the corner?

  • Or is the on line reading experience strictly for the birds?

  • Does a public branch library have a different function from a university library?

  • Is the country going to Hell in a handbasket because only people who write for the New York Review of Books read Faulkner any more (or at least say they do)?

  • Should I be reading the classics instead of blogging?
After all,
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all o-yeah
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry
Don't cry.
Wait a minute. Shouldn't I be quoting Proust? Or Shakespeare?

HT: El Capitán.

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