Thursday, August 2, 2012


Of all things, me, a librarian! That's what they call it anyway, what I'm doing on Goodreads. True, I have more than a few friends who work in that line, active and retired. Lovely people. Only fair to mention though, how little time I spend in actual public libraries. As for what I generally think of most of them... Well, let's just say I was happy to vote for the latest ballot levy in support of restoring the hours and staff lost to budget-cuts. (There, how's that?) Strange thing then, that I've accepted the designation, "librarian" on the website "Goodreads," of which I have become extremely fond, as any regular visitor here would notice. Not a word I would have picked, obviously, "librarian," but in this context it simply means I can add and or update content on the site: adding scans of book-covers, authors' photos, descriptions of books, writers-biographies, etc. I've just spent the evening at it. Not the first time I've done that lately either. I'm a teensy bit obsessed, actually. Call it a compulsion.

Mostly this has been to do with adding titles to the system; books I own, either in the original, or as reprinted paperbacks that I've had made for me on the EBM at the bookstore where I work. Whenever and wherever possible, I've scanned in covers, added authors' photographs, and I've cut and pasted, an in a few cases even written, brief biographies of authors where the site either had none, or had too little. (Mostly taken from Wiki, obviously, but in a few cases, I've copied from dustjacket sleeves and actually researched some writers online until I found, for example, listings at their alma maters or a local obituary.) Not just my more obscure favorites, mind you, or new discoveries, like Douglas Jerrold have required this kind of support. There have been famous, and even quite important authors, like Le Sage and Edward Lear, who either didn't have anything on their author's page, or at least needed a picture. Imagine.

But then, the whole enterprise is one of those wonderful internet developments where, no matter who started the thing and launched the platform, it is users -- i.e. readers in this instance -- who are responsible for producing the content; from reviews to readers' groups, to lists and trivia questions. I think this kind of thing marvelous, specially when it comes to a community of readers. I like the participatory democracy, the conversations, the opportunity to expand on unfamiliar authors to potential new readers. That's pretty much what I was already doing here, and at the bookstore when I'm lucky.

Case very much in point would be the now forgotten gent of letters and long-standing enthusiasm of mine, Edward Verrall Lucas (1868 - 1938.) Know him? Of course you don't. Nobody much now does. I only know him because he happened along, years ago, introducing someone else -- Lamb, was it? or Johnson? in yet some third party's book, like as not. Anyway, now lucas is a a mainstay and a prop of my middle age. He is the best friend Charles Lamb found after death, a thoroughly charming essayist and critic in his own right, and a delightful anthologist of poetry and prose in wonderful little books usually organized by theme; like Good Company: a Rally of Men and The Ladies Pageant and The Friendly Town: A Little Book For the Urbane. These I love, genuinely. The selection and the organization of these small collections of literary goodies are just like chocolate boxes and finding one delicious item after another can spend an evening without so much as remembering to make a proper meal.

There is a lot then to be said for getting at least some of the more than on hundred books for which Lucas was responsible as either author or editor into the hands of new readers, and Goodreads is a wonderful new way to reach at least a few.

Not, however, if he is represented on the site by nothing but a few introductions he may have written to collections of fairy tales, two or these of his own titles, and nothing but ugly and expensive paperback reprints without pictured covers, a few ebooks and just some arbitrary other stuff. So frustrating.

Now at least he has a proper profile, with dates and all, a photograph, and at least a few of the titles I actually own added to the list of his work. It's a start. More than this though, for me this has also been an opportunity to remind myself of just what it was about figures like Lucas; essayists, gentlemen of letters, enthusiasts of an earlier generation, that drew me to collecting books, his kind of books anyway, in the first place. These books were -- are -- a way in; to the classics of English literature, to civilized conversation, to how to write clean, clear prose, and appreciate poetry, to use quotation, to collecting books! Perhaps the chief responsibility of the literary journalist in Lucas' day may well have been to entertain and amuse the assumed reader, very much an educated Englishman just like himself, but obviously that was not his only job. Lucas, like many another critic before him, and not a few after, also contributed mightily to the taste and habits of his day. What's more, Lucas at least wrote well enough and so much that what survived if only on used bookstore shelves, if found, could and can still educate and entertain even the likes of me, roughly a century later. In other words, he did what the Internet and sites like Goodreads might do yet, and not just for me.

So this then is what I might do for him, yes?

No comments:

Post a Comment