How did your reading go this month? Did you find something to read inspired by You’ve Got Mail?
I read The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis which turned out to not only be fascinating, but something of a tense, twisty mystery. The majority of the story takes place inside the New York Public Library, offering a peek behind the scenes of this iconic building and it’s history.
Did you know that the New York Public Library had an apartment for the live-in custodian and his family? Many large public buildings (including libraries) that were built in the early part of the last century had them since maintenance of the coal burning furnaces required constant care. Can you imagine growing up in a library, with all of it’s treasures at hand? The apartments are now abandoned or used for storage; a few have been converted to programming space. Fiona Davis centers her story around the apartment in the New York Public Library and the (fictional) people connected to it in two different time periods.
In 1914, Laura Lyons is living in the New York Public Library apartment with her husband Jack and their two children, Harry and Pearl. Jack is the head custodian of the building which means he puts in long hours at work. In his free time he is pursuing his true passion – writing a novel. Laura has ambitions too, of becoming a journalist, but society and lack of money keep her a virtual prisoner at home. When a chance to attend journalism school comes up, Laura seizes the opportunity despite the strain it puts on her home life. She discovers a group of women who are fighting for women’s rights and discussing radical political ideas causing Laura to see her life in a new light. But while Laura’s world is expanding, several rare, valuable books disappear from the library’s collection and suspicion eventually falls on the Lyons family, leading to tragedy.
Woven around Laura’s story is that of Sadie Donovan in 1993, Laura’s granddaughter and temporary curator of the NYPL Berg Collection, an extremely valuable treasury of rare books and literary artifacts. Sadie is ambitious and hard-working but when books begin to disappear from the Berg Collection in the same mysterious way that they had in 1914, Sadie finds herself trapped by accusations in almost the same way as her grandparents. Desperate to clear her name, she searches for answers which may be hidden in her family’s past.
I enjoyed this book, especially the history and back room workings of the library. The mystery of the missing books is twisty and very tense, although somewhat convoluted. Sadie is not the warmest person and makes some questionable choices, but the search for the lost books – and what happened to her family – makes for un-put-downable reading.
Now it’s your turn – what did you read in September?