A while back, I was contacted about participating in a local author fair. Not only was I just personally delighted, given how much I love libraries and librarians, but I was just amazed when I saw who had extended this very kind invitation.
The Joliet Public Library, Black Road Branch. In Joliet, Illinois.
Now before I came to live outside Chicago, I grew up in Philadelphia. My father, however, had grown up in Joliet Illinois. His mother, my grandmother, worked at the main branch of the Joliet Public Library for thirty years, retiring shortly after I was born in 1971.
In an interview published in the Joliet Herald-News dated December 26, 1971, my grandmother explained that she'd started as an apprentice at the library, working her first two and a half months without pay! Initially, she mainly shelved books, but was also called on to mend books as well:
"There were no book binders at that time, so when books became damaged by usage and wear, we sewed them by hand. I learned how to build a book from the bottom up."-Josephine Calkins
She left the library in 1936 to get married--my father says she met his father at the library!
After taking coursework at the University of Illinois library school, she returned to the Joliet library in 1953, working in the children's, reference, and adult departments.
From 1956 to 1965, my grandmother was in charge of the library's bookmobile, before becoming an assistant librarian. The experience at the bookmobile, she said, helped her learn about what people liked and disliked, which later informed her purchasing decisions.
When asked to reflect, in December 1971, about what had changed since she first started working at the library, she had this to say:
"A return of the 1930s is reflected in today's reading trends with many requests for books on witchcraft, hypnotism, astrology, numerology and palmistry....We don't have as many male readers in the library today as in the past. There was a time when we couldn't keep enough western books on the shelves...."
I can only imagine what my grandmother would think of current library trends now. Back then, microfiche and microfilm collections as well as "The New InterLibrary Loan Program" were just starting to transform how library patrons could access materials. What would she think of the digital revolution?
Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away in 1987, so we can't know. From what I do remember, she had a deep and abiding love of books, which she passed on to my father and my siblings. I'd imagine she'd be thrilled at the ready access of books and the long reach that modern libraries can attain.
(The other thing I remember about my grandmother was that she taught me to embroider, on one long visit to Philadelphia. While I appreciate that skill, I can't help but wish now she had also taught me how to build a book--a worthy skill indeed!)
As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a house literally lined with books, many of them bequeathed to us from my grandmother. I truly believe that my love of writing stems from my love of reading, a trait inherited from both my parents (my mother was also a librarian).
So I believe it will be quite a moment when I set up my table on Saturday. On one side, my first novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate. On the other side, the photos of my grandmother passing out books at the Joliet bookmobile. My parents are even making the trek out! I don't know what to expect exactly, but I'm sure it will be great!
From time to time, I've thought to myself I'd like to find more sports-related books for my children.
Today I opened a care package from my mother. Inside, were the usual niceties she likes to send: activity books for the kids, some little notepads and stickers, some coupons and...a book.
The book was called Winning. A Novel by Robin Brancato.
This book looked familiar to me. I thought, 'Oh, my parents must have found one of my old books up in the attic, and decided to include it in the care package.'
Well, yes and no. It was one of my old books. Inside, was the elaborate scrawl that I used to sign my books with, along with the date I had acquired it. April 9, 1988. In the corner someone had penciled $3.00, so it was clearly bought second-hand from my local Wynnefield Library book sale (remember, the most beautiful library in the world).
I don't know why I had picked it up as a teenager, actually, since I never really liked sports-themed books. As it turned out, though, Winning is the story of a young football player whose life is turned upside down by tragedy, so not a typical sports story at all. Although I only read this one once, it was an extremely compelling read.
But when I left home to go to graduate school in 1993, I remember giving away a bunch of my old books to a local Goodwill, a few towns away from my parent's house in Philadelphia. Winning was one of those books.
In the note I received today, my mother wrote: "We found this book in the Overbrook Train Station Book Swap." The Overbrook train station is just a few blocks from my parent's home in Philadelphia.
So, almost exactly TWENTY YEARS LATER, the book returned to my parents, and they returned it to me. Where has the book been for twenty years? I'll never know.
I do know I will save it for my children to read--I don't think they would have ever read this amazing story otherwise.
But maybe this is just a reminder that sometimes when you throw a question to the universe, you never know how you'll be answered...and perhaps that's the fun of it.
What do you think? Have you ever tossed a question to the universe and seen it answered in strange ways?
Can Jung explain coincidence?
_I was reading a mystery today, enjoying the story, when I was brought to a screeching halt. The author had introduced a rather significant coincidence into the story--two seemingly unrelated events--which of course became pivotal to the plot.
I wasn't bothered by the coincidence, but rather by how easily the heroine assumed that these events--a distant relative's death from natural causes and the disappearance of a local person--just HAD to be connected. It felt a bit clumsy, a bit contrived. I know that history is full of crazy coincidences, but as a reader, I wasn't sure that it worked.
I felt a little manipulated by the author.
HOWEVER, my husband, a cognitive psychologist, had a different take. He said that the character's insistence that the events had to be linked exemplifies two things. First, that people naturally look for patterns, even when no patterns exist. Second, people feel the need to account for extraordinary events with extraordinary explanations, even when a common explanation would suffice (also called the "Spectacular Explanation Fallacy.")
So, for example, have you ever been humming a tune, and when you next turn on the radio, that same tune is playing? Or have you ever dreamed about a friend, and the next day she calls you? Strange, right?
But how do you explain it? A divine being at work? ESP? Fate? Alignment of the planets? Jung's collective unconscious? Producers manipulating your life? (okay, think Truman Show for the last one).
So I'm curious about two things: Have you ever been thrown off by a coincidence that seemed too jarring to be credible, as either a reader or as a viewer? Have you ever experienced a coincidence that's stranger than fiction? So, ultimately, should a coincidence be plausible?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.