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Westerly Sun Column

Hidden Gems at the Library

Normally, I write about popular books. The new. The shiny. The ones that often have a waiting list due to high demand. Today, let’s talk about something different: the hidden gems in our collection. The incredibly charming, but seldom-borrowed. The overlooked. The ones that (lucky you!) are available for checkout right now.

The three of you that have been following my columns for a while probably know by now that I’m a fan of animals, particularly of the feline persuasion. Perhaps this is why my absolute favorite random title is “An Elephant Up a Tree” (1933) by Hendrik Willem van Loon, a delightful book that features a cat named Diogenes, a heroic whale, and, of course, an elephant. Full of clever and charming animal illustrations, the book appears at first to be for younger audiences; however, as the New York Times Book Review warned on November 5th, 1933: “This satire is not for children, [who] wouldn’t be amused by the scene where ‘Sir John, an elephant of great charm’, swings two gangsters around his head and dashes their brains out against a stone wall”. Ouch. The plot is generally more agreeable than that particular passage though, and has a valuable message at the end. If the book is not for you, which quite frankly, I completely understand, check it out for the pictures. To quote again from the New York Times: “Mr. Van Loon’s drawings are in this instance superior to his text”.

The author George Saunders is certainly not hidden or unknown; his 2017 book “Lincoln in the Bardo” won the Man Booker Prize and was in extremely high demand. Still, considerably fewer people have heard of his 2000 novel “The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip”, a fable about a small seaside village with an economy based solely on goat’s milk, and the nasty “gappers” that endlessly terrorize said goats. Though the book was originally written for children and includes fantastic images by Lane Smith (best known for illustrating “James and the Giant Peach”), the whimsical story and wry humor is appreciated just as much by adults. We don’t have this title at our library, but you can easily place it on hold through our consortium!

Finally, a few books that have cult-like followings amongst librarians are “The Perfect Fruit” by Chip Brantley, and “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”, by Edith Holden. The first is a surprisingly intriguing account of a fruit many know little about: the marvelous pluot (yes, the pluot!). The second is an enchanting facsimile of Holden’s real diary from 1906, documenting the changing seasons in prose, verse, and beautiful paintings. Even if you’re not an agriculturalist, these won’t disappoint.

As I said before, these books are currently available for checkout, but don’t wait! This remarkably compelling column is sure to bring hordes of people running to check them out! Either way, you should visit the library and carefully browse the stacks for a hidden gem of your own.

By Cassie Skobrak, Reference Librarian