From the mailbag

Jeffrey Makala, an assistant librarian with Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library, says the outlines for James Ellroy’s early works are nearly as extensive as the later ones.

We have Ellroy’s papers, which I’m about to start processing, here at South Carolina, and the L.A. Confidential “outline” is over 200 pages of single-spaced narrative. It’s a full plot summary of everything that’s going to happen in the book. Ellroy seems to do this for all his novels.

(Also in the rare books collection at Thomas Cooper: the Joseph Heller archives.)

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous is a dissenting voice amid the dazzled multitudes praising Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. (Yesterday Sean Carman reviewed the book for this site.) Says my friend:

I read [Special Topics] over the weekend. Eh. The last 150 pps. were great but the entire book needed serious editing — like 100 pps. less text at least. The narrator’s voice really bugged me because she has one literary trick she uses over and over and over. Which is too bad because I had been looking forward to reading it for months. It’s kind of like Harry Potter (w/out the magic) meets Jonathan Safran Foer lite, w/a little Judy Blume thrown in for good measure.


On Ray Bradbury’s 86th birthday, Chris Barsanti paraphrases (from memory) another of the great sf author’s writing stories. Bradbury told this one, about the genesis of Fahrenheit 451 (“which he said took him only 9 days for the rough draft”), at a reading Barsanti attended while in college:

I was working in my study late one night when there came a knocking at the door. I answered it and saw a man standing there. His eyes were blazing and he smelled of smoke.

I said, “Who are you?”

He said, “My name is Montag.”

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a fireman. I burn books.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I don’t like my job.”

So I said, “Well, come on in.”

“Also,” says Barsanti, “when I went up to talk to Bradbury later about a story I was writing, he held up his hand and said, ‘Stop! Shut up! Don’t talk about it! Go home and write that! If you talk about it, you’ll never write it.'”

The proprietor of Left Pedal, who relocated from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to my Brooklyn neighborhood last year, responds to the dressing-down I recently received from some librarians. He riffs on the shortcomings and virtues of public libraries. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

I am a huge fan of [the public library]… um, in theory. I wish every kid went down to the local public library and used it. I wish people knew how much fucking information was actually in a library — for jobs, how to get grants, you know, important stuff. Most of that stuff is NOT online and people just don’t know that. (The mid-Manhattan branch has the best reference collection for how to find jobs and scholarships and more that I’ve ever seen.)

But, I, personally, don’t need that information most of the time. What do I want from a library? A nice read. But the branch libraries don’t usually have that…. I think branch libraries should stick what they’re good at- helping kids and helping provide access to materials that their community needs (e.g., in a Polish neighborhood [like ours], they should have Polish books, Polish-English dictionaries, histories of the neighborhood, job reference sources).


And on the same topic, Richard Grayson writes:

The three NYC library systems have really bad hours. I am now in Williamsburg. Here are the hours of my local branch:
Sunday, closed
Monday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, 1:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Friday, 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

I lived in north Phoenix until May. Here are the hours of a branch within walking distance of my house (the library was conveninetly located in the huge parking lot of the Paradise Valley Mall):
Monday – Thurday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri – Sat, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday, noon-6 p.m.

Before that I lived in Davie, FL. Here are the [building hours] of the library, again, within walking distance of my house, a joint project of Nova Southeastern University (actually the building was next to the law school where I worked) and the Broward County Commission:
Monday-Thursday, 7:30am – 11pm
Friday, 7:30am – 9pm
Saturday, 8 a.m. – 8pm
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 11:30p.m.

Any county resident could borrow books from this library. I loved the Collins Library in downtown Tallahassee, too. And the libraries in Gainesville. I would not have become a writer without the BPL.

It’s sad that NYC is so far behind Florida and Arizona.


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