Thursday, April 3, 2008

Book 43 of 52: Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas

This book could have been funny. If you've ever spent a lot of time in a library, you know that they can be strange places with even stranger patrons. That's why I was psyched to start reading this book.

Unfortunately, Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarianwasn't exactly funny, even though it tries. Sure, there were a few humorous patches about Douglas' life as a librarian in Anaheim, and I did appreciate the chance of getting behind the counter with someone who's about my age. But the writing is what sapped the life out of the story. That, and the footnotes.

It's a classic case of showing versus telling, something that I read the best description about in Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction, book 27 of 52.

An example: "Pearl arrived next. She was fifty by dressed thirty, had messy brown hair, and walked with a skip in her step." Ok, but how was she fifty and dressing thirty? What exactly did she wear? And "skip in her step"? Sure, it evokes a youthful image, but it's a flat cliche.

Douglas spends a lot of time describing the crazy people who come into the library, but he never quite give a sharp image of any of them so that most of the book turns into an endless string of Douglas talking about one crazy person or another.

Another example: "Some people are justifiably crazy. They do something stupid, but they have a reason, no matter how stupid that reason is. Some people are just plain crazy. They have no reason for their insanity." And the point is?

It's also littered with footnotes -- sometimes three on two back to back pages. And some of them seem pretty pointless. Example: "Sometimes a kid would come up" Footnote: "It was usually a boy, a fact you don't need to know." You're right. I didn't need to know that.

It's a book that tries too hard to make you laugh. It also lacks a timeline. There's a loose outline of a plot -- moving from an old library to a new library then back to the rebuilt old library -- but it disappears through most of the second half of the book to create a wandering series of "my adventures" at the library. Too bad. I always wanted to know what life at a library was like.

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