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Will somebody please tell me what the hell has happened to the New York Public Library. I’ve only been gone from town for four or five years. One of the things I’ve always loved about this city is what a fabulous library system we have. However, since I’ve been back, half the books I want to check out are listed as only available by reserve at the main branch, which I won’t call by the name of the arrogant millionaire who paid money to get his name on the building.

I was writing something and wanted to check out a detail that I had read in a book years ago. The book is Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher. It’s a commonly cited book. It shouldn’t be rare or hard to find at all. If there is an example of the sort of book that public libraries were intended to make available to the public, that would be it. Yet, the New York Public Library only has one copy and it’s not even a circulating copy. It can only be read by appointment at the millionaire’s name building. This is not the first time I’ve had this happen. Multiple times this year I’ve bought books at the local Barnes and Nobles because they were only available on reserve at the library. What the hell is going on? Why are so many books reserve only? I used to use the library all the time. In fact, when I was in college, I rarely used the school library and was able to use the Mid-Manhattan Library for ninety percent of my academic papers.

How can there have been such a decline in such a short period of time. I have my speculations, but this is just going to be a petulant little outburst so I can get back to writing my longer thing. Barnes and Noble’s had the book for same day delivery in Manhattan. I just have to decide if I want to spend the money.

If anyone runs for mayor based on restoring the library, and I mean the collection and the hours of operation, not the damned building, which has been restored with funding from millionaires, I will vote for you!

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I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn't know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn’t know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Why, yes, I do have funny reading habits.): Some artwork by an Israeli comic artist, Rutu Modan, was defaced in an exhibition at a German university. Students also objected to some sexual scenes from Craig Thompson’s comic Habibi. Disappointingly, the university decided to respond by closing the exhibit.

Good Reads has an article on why people stop reading a book and a fun graphic on which books are most frequently abandoned. The fact that Fifty Shades of Gray and Eat, PrayLove are on the list has restored my faith in women.

Over at the Daily Banter, I found an article on the relationship between Libertarianism and racism. It’s interesting. It is, I should add, very much about the history of the United States. I’d have to do more reading to know whether or not I agree with it, but it’s definitely filed in the back of my mind as “something to think about.” Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with exactly how to regard Thomas Jefferson. Anyone else who has pondered that might want to take a look at that article.

Here’s a nice little article on orchids in New Jersey.

When I was in elementary school, we used to have the little box of cards that would have prompts for creative writing assignments. Somehow, I feel like if I had picked a card saying, “Write something with the title, ‘Comics, Porn, Libertarianism and Orchids,’ ” I should have come up with something more interesting than this.

At The New York Review of Books, they highlighted earlier this week an old essay by one of my favorites, Gore Vidal. In it, he discusses all the books that were on the best seller list at the time. I considered trying a similar exercise, but a look at the current best sellers convinced me that it would be too painful – three shades of Fifty Shades of Gray and The Alchemist. What the hell is The Alchemist doing on the list? Was it made into a movie or something?

I came across an interesting video on The New York Times website about the life of people who have to register as sex offenders who have no place to live other than a small, isolated community. Most people who know me well, know that I do not take the matter of sexual assault lightly. However, I have not liked many of the laws requiring people to register as sex offenders. They seem to me to not have been well thought out as to the consequences. The video itself is a little troubling because it appears to want to make the men seem too harmless. For instance, one man refers to sex with an underage girl as “consensual”, indicating that he still doesn’t understand that the law regards minors as being unable to give consent. Would he, continue to prey on juveniles if he had access to them? It’s hard to say. Furthermore, the end of the video makes the statement that no sexual crimes have occurred in “Miracle Village.” Since most of the residents appear to be men who were found guilty of statutory rape and there are no underage people in the village, this outcome is unsurprising. However, it’s hard to see laws that do not allow for rehabilitation, and eventual reintegration into society, as being just.

A story in The New Republic, tells about how, when some Islamists took over Timbuktu and burned shrines and the library, a group of librarians saved the books from the Ahmed Baba Institute, a bright moment in an otherwise depressing incident.

A decade or more ago, I developed some idle curiosity about a bit of early American colonial history and I took myself down to the local library to do some casual reading that only barely would qualify for the word “research.” I looked up in the electronic catalogue some titles on the subject and, as I had done since high school, jotted down the call numbers and went to the appropriate stacks. I’ve never like closed stack libraries because accident has been as important as intent in the self-administered portion of my education. I don’t look for a specific book so much as I look for a region. The books I once looked up in card catalogues, and now look up in electronic records, are used more as lodestones to guide me in a general direction than of ends in themselves. Armed with a call number, I guided myself to the region where a certain category of information can be found and I examine many books in that locale, not simply the ones whose addresses I know.

Thus it was that I picked up a general book of American history off the shelf of a small public library in a small town, the sort of place no less remarkable for its commonness. The blue cloth binding, faded in places, the size, the shape, the gilt lettering, all gave the immediate impression of an older book. However, the sharpness of the corners and the whiteness of the pages indicated that it had rarely been read. I sat down in a carrel with it. I turned to the title page to look for a date. The copyright was accompanied by a date in the early years of this century. It was published, like most American books of that era, like most American books I have ever read, in New York.

I read the introduction. In the sonorous, authoritative tones that history no longer uses, the introduction gave a general outline of the past. It spoke of Progress with an antiquated admiration and archaic confidence. It did not so much as explained to the reader as inform him of how civilization had risen up from “oriental despotism” to the enlightened world we have today.

Incongruously, I was put in mind of the first page of Harvey Kurtzman’s The Jungle Book, which mocks exactly this ideal of progress. “Up from the apes – and right back down again.” In the copy I own, which is a reprint published by Kitchen Sink Press in the eighties or nineties, there is an introduction by Art Spiegleman. In it, he quotes a conservative observer of society whom he saw interviewed and whose name I forget. The conservative spoke of how everything had gone wrong with society starting in the sixties because kids had been taught to make fun of society. The interviewer asked if he mean things like Mad magazine, co-founded by Kurtzman. The conservative responded, “That’s exactly what I mean.”

However it was clear in the introduction that the author of the history book, a man with faith in progress, was no conservative. Neither, one would guess, was Kurtzman. Yet they held nearly diametrically opposed views. There are days that I wonder what opinions we hold with confidence today will seem naive and outmoded tomorrow.

scarlette