Lady Peabury was in the morning room reading a novel; early training gave a guilty spice to this recreation, for she had been brought up to believe that to read a novel before luncheon was one of the gravest sins it was possible for a gentlewoman to commit.
— Evelyn Waugh
The first book that Donna Berwick remembers signing out of a library was a beautiful bright orange, one in the Bomba the Jungle Boy series. The stories were inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ famous Tarzan tales, and starred a white boy growing up in the South American jungle, learning to survive while hoping to solve the mystery of his lost parents. A second set of books, when Bomba is older, finds our tree-swinger in deepest Africa, continuing with his adventures.
The author was Roy Lockwood, a catch-all name for various writers who quickly produced Bomba’s tales for the greedy young readers who loved the series. The first of the novels was published in 1926, but they were reprinted well into the 1950s (DC Comics even published a Bomba miniseries in the late ‘60s). They featured killer leopards, jungle girls, villainous miners and treasure seekers, cannibals and deadly volcanoes.
Berwick loved them.
Her school library had a limited selection, she says, and she was a voracious reader. So in high school, she got her very first municipal library card from the Sherbrooke Library on Dufferin Street (the building is now home to the Societé d’histoire de Sherbrooke).
Berwick’s affections led to a successful career as a bookstore manager. She’s retired now, but still buries herself in at least two books a week – usually fiction. “I just love reading. I like to go away,” she says.
She moved to Lennoxville in 2002, “and I wanted something to read.” That was when she picked up her first Lennoxville Library card.
Soon the library began a massive reorganization, barcoding every single book on its shelves. “I saw they were working on it and asked if they needed extra help and they said yes.”
Volunteers are essential to the library. And every time she was asked to try something new, Berwick kindly said yes. She’s now the chair of the committee that buys Adult English books for the library, working within a group of six that includes Marilyn Reed, Maureen Quig, and others. Each has their own interests and specialities, allowing for a well-rounded collection.
Berwick laughs: “I like the job – I get to go shopping!”
Still, a lot of work goes into it.
There’s a suggestion box at the library door, and many patrons drop off ideas. But additionally, Berwick regularly checks publishers’ websites for upcoming releases, tracks book award shortlists, and considers the top 100 as recommended by various organizations. There’s also book reviews in newspapers and magazines to be read, and committee members are constantly discussing what books patrons might enjoy.
“We usually have three or four meetings a year,” says Berwick. The Lennoxville Library is “a reading library,” Berwick says, meaning it focusses mainly on fiction. The committee purchases about 150 books a year.
Once bought, they have to be covered, so they last longer, and then catalogued: “It takes a while before it actually gets to the shelf,” explains Berwick. As such, committee members try to stay ahead of the curve, so that a book like Sean Michaels’ 2014 fave Us Conductors gets to the New Arrivals section quickly once it’s been flagged as a possible literary award winner.
The works of some authors are purchased automatically because of their popularity – such as James Patterson, romance writers Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, and thriller specialists Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.
Of course, Berwick has her own favorites.
As she grew older, she moved on from Bomba to Tarzan and John Carter Of Mars, both by Burroughs, and read “anything by Andre Norton,” a pioneering children’s and young adult writer who gave herself a male name so she’d be taken seriously. (It worked. Norton began publishing in the 1930s and is now revered as The Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy.)
As an adult, Berwick is still a fan of science fiction, but also loves mysteries and historical fiction. She recommends author Ariana Franklin’s detective series, set during the reign of Henry II and starring a female physician who was trained in Italy (the English of that period would never have allowed such a thing). Start with Mistress Of The Art Of Death (2008). Then there’s The Death Maze or The Serpent’s Tale (the same book, renamed), followed by Relics Of The Dead.
Or try The Hangman’s Daughter (2008), by Oliver Pötzsch, which introduces Jacob Kuisl, a hangman in 17th century Bavaria who insists on confirming that his victims are truly guilty.
The last best Lennoxville Library book Berwick has read is C. J. Sansom’s Sovereign (2006). “It’s an excellent murder mystery set in the time of Henry VIII.”
Christopher John Sansom is a British author, a lawyer who quit his practice to write historical crime fiction. Sovereign is number three in his six-book (so far) Shardlake series – named for its star, the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who’s commissioned to look into murders and other shady dealings by, in turn, Thomas Cromwell, an archbishop, and even a queen. The series has won all sorts of recognition (readers should start with number one, Dissolution (2003), then Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, and this year’s offering, Lamentation; Sansom has also written Winter In Madrid, a thriller set after Spain’s Civil War, and Dominion, in which the Axis won World War II).
Now’s the time to take a short break from the cares of the real world and plan a brief visit to the library. Bring your lunch and a book you loved to the last Brown Bags of the year, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, December 17. Talking about books is always fun and relaxing!
Our last day open before the holidays is Saturday, Dec. 20 (we close at 1 p.m., and re-open Saturday, January 3 at 9 a.m.). You know you’re going to want something to read over the Christmas break.
Berwick has yet to decide what she’ll spend her holidays reading. It will likely involve a dollop of history, a detective, and sleigh bells.
– Eleanor Brown, December 12, 2014