765. Susan Orlean, The Library Book

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I just finished reading Susan Orlean's The Library Book (Simon & Schuster, 2018), which follows the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles, the largest library fire ever in the United States. Was it arson or not? More than one million books were damaged or lost. Interestingly, not many people heard about this fire as it was happening or afterward because the fire started on the same day as the news broke about the Chernobyl  nuclear disaster. The book is about more than the story of that fire, however. The book expands to include the story of libraries. Libraries! What they mean, or have meant to us, personally. What they mean to society.

Orlean wrote of often going as a young girl with her mother to the library in her Cleveland suburb and the deep childhood memories those visits instilled in her. Her memories reminded me of all the times in grade school when I rode my bike along with my best friend who lived next door to our neighborhood library and then returned with bike baskets full of books, which we'd read on the grass under shade trees. Orlean wrote next of a long span as an adult during which she never went to libraries, forgetting the joy and magic they held, until her young son wanted to interview a librarian for a school project. When she entered the LA Central Library with her son, all her childhood library memories came back and the library "spell" was again cast on her. I remember spending years as a young mother going only to the library's children's room with my sons and coming home with stacks of their books. Then one day I let myself walk out of the children's room and pick a book of my choosing. Like Orlean, I was again hooked. There's probably not been a time since then when I haven't had at least one library book checked out.

What was most fascinating to me in Orlean's book is finding out the nearly unbelievable scope of action librarians practice. They do more than order and keep track of books. They do more than books. Librarians are our historians, our social workers, our pubic health spokespeople, our childhood educators, our teen counselors, our _________ —fill in the blank and librarians are probably busy doing it. The role of the library has increasingly expanded to take a frontline position to care for people in its community.

In the book's conclusion, Orlean underscores that libraries—through the work of librarians and all those who help fund and source the libraries—hold our stories. Think of that "our" in the biggest possible way. All of our stories. Orlean writes:

"The library is a whispering post. You don't need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage—the writer's belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come."

~~~

[Photo: taken in the Cadillac Center Station of the Detroit People Mover]

762. The story of a rabbit

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We recently had a visit in our home, sort of, from a little rabbit of about teenage status. He came in through the dryer vent. My husband heard him late one evening when he went downstairs to turn out the lights before bed. The trapped animal was crying and scratching to get out of the exhaust tube he’d fallen into. Wisely, my husband didn’t tell me about the dilemma in our basement until the next morning when he set about calling a specialist in wild life retrieval to come and get the creature out of the tube. At the time we didn’t know what it was although suspected it to be a chipmunk, which are abundant in our yard. Years ago, one had slid down that same exhaust tubing.

The wild life retrieval specialist came and disconnected the tubing from the dryer and from the outside venting structure and caught the little rabbit in his gloved hands as it slid out. He told me he’d rescued lots of animals from dryer vents but never a rabbit. With great care, he carried the little rabbit outside and told me to get it some water, which he waited for—such kindness—before setting it down. I took a good look at the rabbit and recognized it as the one that had come up to our front door and looked inside just a few days before. My husband and I both met him then, face to face for a good half minute or so, and we thought how unusual to have such a close up meeting with a little rabbit, and then he hopped away. Now here he was again but not in a good way. He was trembling. He barely moved. After the retrieval specialist left, I went back in to work, but walked back out to check on the little rabbit every 5 minutes or so. After just a short while, though, it was apparent he was doing very poorly and so I put him in a shoe box, along with some grass and water, and covered it with a screen to keep flies away.

I texted my daughter-in-law who texted her sister, who frequently rescues all kinds of animals from all kinds of situations, and she suggested putting a heating pad under the shoe box. I microwaved a rice heat pack and put it alongside the box on the side where the rabbit was standing, and then went online and started putting in search terms to find someone or something that could help this little guy. Let’s call it divine intervention. It took only a few minutes before I pulled up a spreadsheet of names of “Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitators in Minnesota.” This list cataloged who to call for ducks and squirrels and even bears. Yes, rabbits too. Regular people who do this as volunteers. I picked a name from my county and called, leaving a message.

About an hour later, a woman called back, her voice full of kindness, full of concern, and since she lived only about 10 minutes from me, came right over to pick up the little rabbit. When she got there, she picked the rabbit up in her bare hands—such gentleness—and turned him over to examine from all directions. He was injured and infected in ways I hadn’t been able to see, and she figured that he had probably tried to hide inside the tubing because he was ill. She would take him home and see what she could do to nurse him back to health. I said to her that given how many rabbits are in all of our yards, and how so many people try to keep the rabbits out of their gardens and so forth, that it was remarkable that she would go to such lengths to help a little rabbit live. She said, “But he’s here and he needs help.”

The next week I emailed her to see how the rabbit was doing. She wrote me back that she had given him a number of therapies, including injectable fluids, pain meds, and antibiotics, but that he had died the next day. She wrote how at least he had died without pain and in a warm and safe environment. I read her email with a huge lump in my throat, which is back now as I write this post. It’s not only that I came to care for that little rabbit, but it’s also, to a huge degree, that I’m overwhelmed that this woman was there with such love and care and that she is there for more creatures than this little rabbit guy and that there are more amazing people like this all over, under the radar. With all the emphasis placed these days on vocation, all the talk about how we need to carefully follow our calls, all the assessments so many of us make about what will bring us money, first author status, top billing, on and on, the image of this woman carefully examining this little rabbit and carrying him to her car is going to stay with me a long time.

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[Photo: taken of a boardwalk at a nearby place of beauty]

760. A New Venture

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This blog space has been quiet the last several months. At the turn of the year, now already more than 5 months ago, I had planned to pull back from writing here for a time so as to devote more time, in the already too few hours unclaimed by work and other commitments, to moving along my manuscript on hope, which already has taken way too long. But just as that plan was made, I found out that Kalos Press, the publisher of Finding Livelihood, my book that came out in 2015, had gone out of business.

While I was still absorbing this news, grieving it actually, and wondering what to do, the book's editor, Jessica Snell, emailed me to say that she and the book's designer, Valerie Bost, were on board to help me republish it if that's what I wanted to do.

Republish it?

I hadn't even gotten that far in my thinking yet. But, yes, I did want to republish it. I think this book still has some good to do in the world. My new publishing venture, Metaxu Press, was born!

Instead of having a next draft of my hope manuscript to show for these months of silence, I now have a second edition of Finding Livelihood. I've been learning about copyright law, and the Library of Congress, and business structures, and book distributors, and pricing models, and printing options. Thankfully, I didn't have to also learn about book design because Valerie allowed me to use again the same cover design and, slightly modified, inside design (did you know that a book's cover and inside design belong to the designer?).

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Valerie also designed a new logo, which I love. Whether I publish anything else through this new press in the future, I can't say for sure, but it's been a fun process. So maybe I will?

The new edition of Finding Livelihood is now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers. Kindle and Nook versions too, although the Kindle version hasn't loaded yet for some reason.

You can also order it from Hearts & Minds Books and Eighth Day Books. If you live in Minneapolis, you can buy it at Milkweed Books or Magers & Quinn. If you live in St. Paul, you can buy it at Next Chapter Booksellers (formerly Common Good Books). No matter where you live, you can ask for it from your local bookstore and they can order it.

All books need some help, even second editions finding their own way out into the world. If you wanted to help this one along—and if you did I'd be ever so grateful—here are some ideas:

  • Post something on social media, such as an excerpt from it or just a word about it

  • Order it from your local bookstore or ask them to stock it

  • Ask your library to order it (this is surprisingly easy to do)

  • Write an Amazon review

  • Buy a copy for a friend or for your church library


Thank you for being here and reading along. I promise I'll get some new content up before too long.

~~~

[photo: taken of the Lilies of the Valley in my yard. It was such a long winter here; the appearance of these triggered a surge of joy.]