10 March 2019

Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax — Of cabbages and kings

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #3)The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny




Because people I know and love love Louise Penny, I was happy to find a copy of one of her books in the library's free pile.

I confess, though, to being sort of not taken in for the first half of the book. Eventually, though, it clicked into place - especially when the intrigue surrounding Inspector Gamache started to emerge. So, it was okay but I'm not really feeling the need to be a completist and read every one of the Gamache books.

That said, I loved this one passage:
'As always. He came over for dinner last night, you know,' said Peter, opening some jam jars. One still had the wax on top and he needed to dig it out with a knife. 'Hardly ate anything.'

It threw me back to my childhood - my grandmother made jam, and sealed the jars with paraffin, as did the formidable Ruth Bogen, who lived across the street. And I can still remember the way you had to dislodge the wax, popping it in a bit so you could pivot it out in one piece. And then, because my mother never threw anything out, you washed the paraffin disk so that you could add it to the collection of odd candle ends and other bits of wax, for making candles anew one day. Who does that anymore?



18 January 2019

The Library Book

If you are a fan of books or libraries or Susan Orlean, you know that she came out with a book recently, called "The Library Book".

It's wonderful. It's shaggy, and erudite, and witty, and it rambles from library theory to arson to book conservation to the history of Los Angeles, with discursions hither and yon. Do not pass go; read it.

I was, however, stopped in my tracks early on, in a passage about the joys of discovering what books are shelved close to one another at the Los Angeles Public Library, based on their Dewey decimal numbers:


Do you see what I see? The numbers she's chosen are not in order:

301.4129781
306.7662
301.45096
301.55


This nagged at me, so I googled Gaydar. Or maybe I googled 306.7662. And I discovered that, in about 2015, the Los Angeles Public Library moved their whole LGBT section from Dewey Decimal 301.4157 to a new call number area at 306.76. Because, it turns out, what seems simple - the Dewey Decimal Catalog - is actually fraught with value judgment decisions about what books should neighbor what other books.

Orlean must have visited the stacks and made her list before the change, and a copy editor must have reviewed the list to check that the books and the numbers matched. And the copy editor found that Gaydar now had a new Dewey Decimal Number and so edited the book copy. But really, Orlean should have found a new book to stick in her list so that the numbers could stay in order. Erik Erikson's Childhood and Society, at 301.43, would have done the trick.

You know, for nitpickers like me.

I digress. The Library Book is a lovely paean to books and libraries and reading, and you should read it. Take it out of your local library.