It is said that a writer should read more than they write. For this reason, writers tend to be library users. Their love of the printed word and the need for unfettered access to information for their work makes the library a haven to the creative literati. It is not surprising then that many fiction stories take place in and around libraries. I dispensed with the obvious titles like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (if you haven’t read it yet, how in the world did you get through high school without reading that book?)
Here are just a few of my favorite, slightly less known, fiction books that involve libraries and librarians.
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
Rebecca Makkai’s first novel is a touching, funny and moving book about a librarian who gets swept up in an adventure with her favorite patron. Ten year old Ian Drake runs away from home to camp-out in the library in order to escape his overbearing mother and weekly gay conversion therapy. When librarian and only understanding adult figure in Ian’s life discovers him after hours she makes the life changing decision to help him escape. The pair make their way from Missouri to Vermont on a road trip filled with secrets, and laughs.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
“The chief character in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell isn’t, in fact, either of the magicians: it’s the library that they both adore, the books they consult and write and, in a sense, become.” – Susanna Clarke
This ridiculously entertaining and riveting tale about two magicians, an old pro and a young rogue, bringing real magic back to England at the turn of the 19th century features many scenes of the main character’s pouring over ancient books and occult texts at the Library at Hurtfew Abbey. Most of the major scenes take place in the library and the library truly becomes a character with it’s own powers and desires. The book has been turned into a BBC mini-series as well.
The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil
A young reference librarian with esoteric tastes delves into the mystery of the theft of Marie Antoinette’s watch. Interestingly, this watch still exists, though Marie Antoinette had been dead for nearly 35 years upon completion, and it was actually stolen. This book was published between the time of the robbery by master thief Na’aman Diller in 1983 and the recovery of the watch in 2007. Still, it’s a modern-day tale of literary intrigue, eccentric passions, and delightful secrets. It really goes to show what a reference librarian can do!
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
A phenomenal mystery about Australian rare-book expert, librarian, and misanthrope Hannah Heath getting a dream job; analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which was rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. While working on the volume she discovers strange items in the ancient binding; part of an insects wing, wine stains, white hair, and salt. The story that unravels crosses space and time and sweeps the reader up in an epic mystery.