Rating: 2.75 stars
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Eager — or is it desperate — for a change, Nan takes a chance and leaves behind the monotonous dreary mundanity of her life in the hopes of finding that very banal and yet vital necessity: happiness. She hopes to find it in the small city of Pinetree, New Jersey where she will be the new town librarian, in charge of her own library rather than working beneath someone else. She will be the one to decide what new books are bought, what events are hosted, what books are weeded … it will be paradise. An escape from her exes, her sisters, her life.
In Pinetree, she finds all she was hoping for and more. Budgets, schedules, vandals, and cryptic messages left by a library ghost. She gains friends, respect, confidence, and maybe — just maybe — a little love.
Nan, like so many others, lived in her local library as a child. It helped her escape an emotionally distraught mother whose problems bled over onto her three daughters; it allowed her to escape her sisters, who, like Nan, internalized all of their mother’s fears and despair; it allowed her to escape her father who stood faithfully by a wife who was falling apart and daughters he didn’t know how to deal with. The library has been Nan’s whole life, and she loves it. What she doesn’t love are the headaches that come with it: the un-fun parts of work and the people.
As a character, Nan feels judgmental, small minded, and not terribly interested in moving out of her comfortable bubble — in terms of reading or otherwise. “Fantasy worlds” is how she addresses anything not research or contemporary, in such a way as I can almost imagine her clutching her pearls along with a confused, scornful look, as if those who read fantasy books are somehow lesser than than those who read “adult works” and the true classics. Classics that Nan herself is so very fond of and proud of, and which are heavily and repeatedly name-dropped as if she’s afraid her literary merit as a librarian will be questioned should she read anything else. As someone who enjoys a great many books in many genres, “adult” or “fantasy world,” “literary classic” or not, I have a feeling that I would not like Nan as a person. (As it was, I struggled with her as a character.)
However, as much as I did not enjoy the “I’m more literary than thou” vibes Nan gave off, or Nan’s constant shallow judgments of the people around her, Nan the librarian was interesting. It was fun seeing behind the stacks at all the secrets that lurk within a library — budgets, scheduling, ordering new books, and weeding out the old; arranging events to keep people coming in; helping with research; and dealing with board meetings and the friends of the library groups.
The three biggest relationships Nan has in this book are with her landlady, Immaculata; the foster child, Jeremy; and T, the lesbian baker. With Immaculata, Nan is at first cautious and short, but easily won over by Immaculata’s wonderful food and the fact that Nan lives in her house, and so Immaculata has no issue just taking over Nan’s life as a mother figure. With Jeremy, the neglected and starving foster child, Nan is friendly, giving him all the books to read he wants. When it’s pointed out to her (twice) that the boy isn’t getting regular food or baths or care or attention or anything, Nan eventually strikes up more than a superficial friendship and starts bringing him food, followed by introducing him to Immaculata, who takes him under her wing.
And then there’s T, the out and proud lesbian who audaciously courts and coaxes Nan into first a friendship, and then a relationship. However, Nan wants more than what she thinks T is offering — though never do they have a conversation about what it is T is offering — and she easily casts her aside. She wants a full course meal, not day old bread. After such a dismissal, Nan still calls T over for a booty call when she’s feeling lonely, because that’s all T seems to be to her. At least, according to Nan, who looks down on T for not having the same interests and thus not being able to have a conversation with Nan.
It can be fun reading a book with a dislikable character, because not every character will be likable. However, the whole book — the narration, Nan’s opinions, and even the whimsical town of Pinetree — all had the same voice, Nan’s voice, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. Nan judges everything and everyone, and not kindly. She’s defensive, unkind, and ungenerous. And the whole book was in the same voice, which left me feeling very unwelcome and unwanted in Nan’s world.
The writing was a fine, the city of Pinetree, with its wacky and whimsical cast of characters, felt a bit forced and wavered somewhere in time. The adults decried children constantly being on their phones, but at the same time, Nan has the library set up a hypochondriac hotline where someone can call up and list off their symptoms, all so a librarian can read off what the symptoms might mean … but wouldn’t people just be able to go online and google? Wouldn’t that be faster and more convenient, not to mention more private?
The constant feel of judgement and Nan’s constant disregard and dislike of people just left me feeling unwelcome in her company and in this book. All in all, I do not recommend it.