Join the Lennoxville Library in order to take books out? And read them? Pffft. Vincent Cuddihy didn’t need any of that.
“I got my first card in order to cook books rather than read them,” jokes Cuddihy. A Montrealer, he moved to Lennoxville in 1972 to join the Economics department at our local Cégep. “As a teacher at Champlain, I had always had full privileges at the Bishop’s University library, so I had no need to use the public library.”
He retired in 2005, and two years later was asked to take up the (volunteer) job of library treasurer. “But in order to hold an executive position at the library, I had to be a member of the board of directors. And in order to be elected to the board, I had to be a member in good standing, which meant I had to get a card.”
And now he keeps the books, but has also found that he’s using his library card for a different type of book, that can only be kept for three weeks at a time. And for the past five years he’s also attended biweekly Books & Brown Bags luncheon get-togethers at the library, for a bite to eat and a chit-chat about the latest books they want to recommend.
“It was never intimidating (after 33 years facing large groups of teenagers, not much else is) and usually both fun and informative. I have learned a lot about authors and books I was not aware of, which has helped me broaden my interests and added to my reading pleasure.”
Cuddihy spends a lot of time reading. And then a short time talking; attending a Books & Brown Bags “forces you to establish in your own mind what you liked or didn’t like about a book. So you graduate from having a vague sensation about how you feel to having a very clear idea about what was good or bad about the book. Often, you find yourself saying, ‘This guy could really use a good editor.’ There is a good story with interesting characters, but the writing really needs to be tightened up. It is not as though these people are writing serials for weekly magazines like Dickens or Dostoyevsky did.”
In the UK, it was the Victorians who truly brought serials to life, thanks to increased levels of literacy and advances in the printing press. Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, published in 1836, is considered to have jumpstarted the genre. Over in Russia, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina began to see print in 1873. The story went on for five years. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov came next (in 1879). It was shorter; Dostoevsky would have pocketed much less of a paycheque. (Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are all copyright-free and available online at Gutenberg.org, but we also have The Pickwick Papers on CD in our audio section.)
Cuddihy’s friends know to give him books as gifts, and he buys good reads for his friends in turn: “I also have a habit of shopping early when buying gifts for other people so I can get a chance to read the books that I am really keen on.”
His latest recommendation is Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014, filed on the Adult Fiction shelves), which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. “I was familiar with his work because I had read a couple of his earlier works and enjoyed them. I have a nephew, Andrew, who lives in Australia. When he first moved down there about 15 years ago, I made a point of buying him books by Australian authors so he could better integrate himself into that society. Andrew is profoundly deaf, so reading is a more important form of entertainment and source of information for him than for most people.
“Flanagan’s writing is really spell-binding. His description of life in the Japanese prison camp (where his own father was held captive), even though it is absolutely gruesome, is also riveting. It is not his first time writing about prison camps. Gould’s Book of Fish was about life in a British prison camp for deportees from the UK in western Tasmania in the 19th century. But what is really intriguing about Narrow Road is Flanagan’s efforts to describe prison life from the perspective of the Japanese officers who had been ordered to run the camp. Even the book’s title is borrowed from a travelogue written by a Japanese poet in the early 18th century.”
Cuddihy was the first library patron to read this copy of Narrow Road – a thank-you for donating it during our annual Adopt-A-Book campaign.
Books & Brown Bags meets March 11 from noon to 1 p.m. (and every two Wednesdays thereafter) — bring your lunch, and a book. The Lennoxville Library is filled with books, and it’s always time to get a few recommendations, because it’s more fun to read a great book than one that’s merely meh.
– Eleanor Brown, February 27, 2015