Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Secret Shopper Assignment: Where nobody knows your name

For this assignment, I had the pleasure of visiting a library four states away on the Eastern Sea board. Because I cannot according to the rules of this assignment divulge the actual location that I visited, I will simply say it was the most amazingly library looking edifice I had seen short of the Library of Congress.

Course, that wasn't the main reason I chose to travel today. One of my college buds had a do today for his firstborn boy, and I was expected to be there. Being in the midatlantic, I reasoned this would be the perfect chance to visit a library where I was virtually assured that no one would know me.

It was an experience just walking up the many stairs, and petting the large marble guardians resting outside this magnificent building. Inside, I discovered that their idea of the first floor, looked more like the third floor to me. Eventually, after asking a few desk dwellers, I discovered the regal, old oak reference desk. It was labeled INFORMATION, but you knew the two librarians helming it were distinctly reference types.

I walked up to the first one, an older gentleman and he asked with a smile, 'Can I help you?'
I of course asked if he could recommend a good book to read. He countered with 'What's your poison?' To my mind, there's nothing quite as awesome as a librarian capable of witty repartee. So I suggested my standard flavors: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery. He immediately mentioned that if I wanted genre lit, I would be better served at 'the library across the street', but that they had many fine general fiction titles.

Unperturbed, I suggested let's look at the fiction stacks. He asked what time period? I suggested Victorian. He did like what Chuck does on that TV show of the same name, and FLASHED for a second, and suggested Wilkie Collins. My inner mind is thinking, 'Where have I heard that name before?' But being game, I asked if he had a particular book of Messr. Collins in mind? Boy howdy, did he ever.

He immediately without hesitation, reservation or persperation, mentioned that Wilkie Collins had written a great deal of short fiction. He pulled up off the computer catalog a selection titled 'The Best Stories of Wilkie Collins'. I presented the tag to the circulation desk, and they told me to get a library card. After I received my new card, the realization dawned that I now have library cards in 4 different states, how wild is that? Of course, I kept that to myself, but inside I was frabjous and screaming "Calloo Callay!!" and chortling in my joy. (Yes I saw Alice in Wonderland last weekend, and it's warping the brain again.)

After waiting some small time (approximately half an hour), I set to work on the first story in the collection, called The Dead-Alive and instantly several things struck me. I recalled instantly that Erin had read The Lady in White, and that she mentioned it was very dense and hard reading. Well folks, his stories read just the same way.

In this story, we have a barrister who's been told to take some time off from work and rest his brain, or he'll short-circuit his inner workings and die from mental exhaustion. He takes this as a good opportunity to visit a relative in America. This is when he learns of the bad blood on his relative's farm. I recall that the main character's surname was Lefrank, and that the antagonists were 3: Silas and James, as well as a John something or other. I recall a beatiful young woman who I suspect was named Cordelia, but unsure.

The plot is quite hoary, and indicates that in his short fiction, Wilkie Collins was trying to be a little bit poe and a little bit Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was writing hoary strange mysteries with spooky overtones, that turned out to be perfectly logical once the protagonist (LeFrank), pieces it all together. It was a decent read, but if your short stories are as dense as your novels, I'm uncertain I would wish to repeat the experience of reading the book. But I'm certainly glad I had it.

This Library was much like the Library of Congress, in that you could not check out books. They could only be read in the confines of the reading rooms. Ultimately, I enjoyed my two hours at this library, although I did learn that Wilkie Collins is only good if you have plenty of time to spare, and your not tired when you start reading, else you'll be caught snoring in the pages on the book.

Such is the life.


  1. A library card in four states! You sir, are indeed well heeled when it comes to access to books. :)

  2. Thank you kindly. The states in question are NY, CA, MD and of course IN.

  3. I loved the "What's your poison?" line. Your librarian sounded pretty good. I wish he had recommended more than one author for you, though. I'm guessing that one author is the standard answer, but I feel a librarian should offer two or three suggestions to show he or she is really intent on serving you.

  4. I know exactly what mean, Emily. It did seem like he simply wanted to come up with something that would satisfy the patron and then go back to doing whatever it was he was doing on the pc.

  5. Something tells me I've worked for the venerable institution you've just described. I hope you had your picture taken next to Patience or Fortitude - the two marbled beauties out front.

    This particular library is a research library - and so readers advisory is not their business per say. But I think this particular reference librarian did a pretty good tried. He tried to send you across the street where you belonged.

    But he was wise enough to sense you wanted to actually read something in one of the most amazing libraries on earth.

    All in all - not too shabby.

  6. Andrea,

    I would not be surprised if you have...

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  8. Oh, Wilkie. He's such an acquired taste these days. I definitely will not be running back to his books anytime soon, but the whole experience was not a bad one. The Lady in White was still good, just looooooong. It definitely requires lots of time to read, but then, it was intended to be read over a long period of time originally. Oh, how reading habits have changed. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's experienced Mr. Collins now.

  9. Indeed, it was definitely a different sort of experience.