The Personal Librarian Didn't Speak to Me

 I recently read The Personal Librarian for a book club. I had tried a year or so ago, and the narration didn't grab me, so I stopped after two chapters. However, I persevered for the book club.

Persevere I did. I was not fond of this book, which felt like an exercise in caution.

The words of Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray words did not bring Belle to life for me. Instead, their words told me what Belle may have felt. 

Belle’s passion and excitement did not make it onto the page for me. I felt only constraint. Nearly every scene included Mama’s imagined or real admonishments, to the point of tedium.

Intellectually, I recognized Belle’s personal and social constraints. I tried to appreciate and sympathize, but it's hard to sympathize with caricature. 

The book showed me nothing. I was not transported to the back room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the ever-expanding Morgan Library, the taut drama of a woman outbidding men at high-stakes auctions when she couldn’t even leave the house without a chaperone for decorum’s sake, or the “back room” dealings in posh British restaurants. I wasn't whisked to Italy in the arms of my cad, er, lover, after an awkward meeting with his wife. I felt no embarrassment, tension, challenge, boldness, recklessness.

Belle de Costa Greene was a fascinating character when described by Morgan Library Exhibition Project Curator Erica Ciallela at a recent book club meeting. Belle sounds fascinating, brave, intelligent, and amazing, and I will visit the Morgan Library to find out more about this amazing woman.

However, this book was all on the page for me, which was not as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. If you had a different experience, I would like to hear about it, so drop me a note and we'll chat.