NYPL expectations

Is it all those photographs of the reading room and the lions? The city’s reputation as a book town? Too many movie scenes set in the flagship library?

Whatever the source of the misapprehension, I know — since most of my friends are also transplants — that I’m not the only one who moved here expecting each branch of the New York Public Library to be open 24 hours a day and stocked with every book published since the Gutenberg Bible. But just so those of you elsewhere know (and no disrespect to the crackerjack librarians): not so much.

[M]y mood was dampened by the orangeish fluorescent lights and the utter mess of some of the tables, but I soldiered on. First book on the list — no dice. Second — nope. Third — this is not your day. Fourth — give it up, will you?

Having struck out entirely, I set out for the Old Reliables, those authors with a vast body of work I haven’t yet plumbed the depths of, but who can usually be counted on to produce something satisfying. The Graham Greene section was bare. Approaching the TC Boyle section required maneuvering around a tall seated man who seemed occupied with nothing but producing a full-body backward stretch from his chair that would bring him into physical contact with passing female patrons.

And once I passed this challenge, no Boyle to be found.

Scanning the new nonfiction section for a fresh discovery, my mood turned ever more glum — will there be a day when I’ll need to come to the library in search of that “Coping with Breast Cancer” book? How about “So You Want a Baby and He Doesn’t”? And in the fiction new releases — how is it that I’m fooled, every time, into thinking that a mammoth novel by one STEVE MARTINI is a surprise new release by actor, writer, and art collector Steve Martin? I begin to question my own critical faculties. If you’re dim enough to make that kind of mistake, I think, you’ll never publish a book — and what’s the point of it all anyway, it’ll just end up among these lonely stacks, covered in smudged, yellowing cellophane … look at the rows, hundreds upon hundreds of phone calls to Mom announcing that the novel’s finally been published, all the proud updates to college alumni newsletters … who are all these people?


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