Virginia is a big fan of Ruth Kassinger's first book, Paradise Under Glass, so her latest one, A Garden of Marvels (on sale 2/25) has had a lot of buzz around our department. We just gave away a bunch of galleys at ALA Midwinter, so hopefully some of you were able to snag one.
Ruth has very nicely agreed to guest blog, so welcome!
When I was fifteen and a student in Baltimore, I fell in love with the early twentieth-century poet Mina Loy. I’d read a few of her crackling, avant-garde poems in an anthology, and was intrigued by her wit. She was little remembered in the 1970s, and when I looked for a copy of Lunar Baedeker, the source of those poems, the closest, and perhaps only, available copy was at the Library of Congress. I determined I would go there and read her book. My father thought this a long way to go for some old “pomes,” but agreed to drop me at Penn Station on his way to work downtown. I caught a train to Washington’s Union Station, and then walked fifteen minutes to the library.
Entering the main reading room was (and is) like stepping into a great cathedral, all soaring dome, painted ceiling, and multiple tiers of marble columns. I found the information for Loy’s book in the wooden card catalogs, filled out a retrieval slip, and handed it to the librarian at the (aptly circular) circulation desk. The book was rare, she said, and not housed in the regular stacks; she directed me down some lofty, echoing hallways to the Rare Book Room. I was delighted: now I was on a Rare Quest. Again, I handed over my slip.
The librarian in this rather pedestrian room asked for identification, and I produced my high school I.D. She looked at it, and told me, regretfully, that one must be eighteen to look at rare books. I was stunned. What had my age got to do with poetry? I was terribly shy, but disappointment overwhelmed my diffidence. I had come so far, I said, no doubt a little tremulously. Wasn’t there someone I could talk to? She directed me to the office of the Librarian of Congress.
Did I actually speak to the Librarian of Congress? Not knowing that this librarian was a bit different than Mrs. Sachs at my local branch, I didn’t pay attention to his name. In any case, this older man took pity on me, walked me back to the Rare Book Room, and explained that an exception had been made. I spent a few hours with Loy’s small book––green cover, I recall––and developed a new appreciation for librarians, not to mention polite persistence. Writing as I do at the intersection of history, science, and journalism, appreciation of both continues to serve me well.
- Ruth Kassinger
Thank you, Ruth! You can snag a copy on Edelweiss, FYI.