How many books in a brain?
That is, how many books have you read? How many books have you read that you remember well? Do you know a lot about books and authors you haven’t read?
I’ve been plunging into the topic of readers’ advisory in public libraries, in the hope of someday having a better library job than I have now. And let me tell you, this is a moment in which I am glad that this blog is pseudonymous (and if that isn’t a word, it should be. Oh, good. Merriam-Webster online says it is. Digression over.).
Because sometimes I’m not sure what I think about readers’ advisory practices in libraries. There is this emphasis on keeping current, on genre fiction, and most difficult of all, a dismissive attitude toward knowing about more classic works of literature.
I, for one, would hate to sit there at a reference desk, in a library chock full of books, and admit that I don’t know who wrote Middlemarch. Or that I don’t know which Dickens novel has Philip Pirrip as the protagonist. Or that I don’t know who is the author of the Hercule Poirot mystery stories. There’s a basic level of cultural literacy in the world of books, and knowing something about the classics seems to me to be a basic necessity for achieving that level.
To my mind, classic books have become classics because they have remained popular (okay, popular enough) for decades and centuries. So this designation of “popular fiction” really irritates me. It seems that a lot of public libraries emphasize current popular fiction, sadly at the expense of classic popular fiction. If you’ll allow me the term “classic popular fiction.” And you will, because this is my blog.
Why is this? Can one human brain have a competent knowledge of English literature AND memorize the names and genres of a whole bunch of New York Times bestsellers? How much about books do you really have to know? Do you have to know about books you hate? Well, yes, I suppose you do. But how much can a human brain hold?
Furthermore, lists of bestsellers change all the time. But it will always be true that Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express and that Sherlock Holmes meets John Watson for the first time in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.
The idea that providing readers’ advisory services means a constant process of learning and forgetting what’s popular during any given week sounds really exhausting to me.
Maybe I’m being an overachiever and taking all this way too seriously. I do have a tendency to do that.
What do you think? Should “classic popular fiction” be a thing?
Love you & leave you,