Monday, September 14, 2015

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

My kids introduced me to Richard Peck, via his recently written stories about mice. We hadn’t explored any of his other books yet, but a commenter on my blog recommended that we branch out. While our library (sadly) doesn’t have many of his earlier works on audiobook, it does have some. I decided to grab Here Lies the Librarian, which was one of the recommendations, and see if the kids liked it.

Here are the previous Richard Peck reviews:

Here Lies the Librarian is aimed at an older audience than the mouse tales, although Peck himself would probably dispute that, having famously said, “I learned that there is no such thing as a 'grade reading level'; a young person's 'reading level' and attention span will rise and fall according to his degree of interest.” I believe this is true, particularly considering my own kids’ obsession with Alexander McCall Smith

The narrator of this story is Eleanor McGrath, aka “Peewee,” a 14 year old girl who assists her adult brother at his garage. The story is set in the years just before World War One, in rural Indiana. She plans to continue her mechanic duties, but some visitors from the big city turn their lives upside down.

Irene Ridpath, a library science major at the university, drives through, and decides to apply (along with her sorority sisters) for the vacant post of librarian in the small town. She also determines to befriend the McGraths, and give Eleanor a shot at a better life.

The story centers around a dirt track race, whose ending I won’t give away here. There are the villains: the owners of a rival garage who will resort to sabotage in order to drum up business. There are other memorable characters, from the old miser who is persuaded to hire the librarians when a classic “price drop” strategy is employed, to the semi-senile “Colonel,” who keeps imagining himself back in the Civil War.

Peck draws in a plethora of historical figures, ideas, and most of all, cars. To say that classic cars are an important part of the story is perhaps even to understate things. Classic cars of the era are lovingly treated, with an affection more than awe. Peck must have a certain amount of personal love for the topic.

This book was therefore quite interesting to my oldest daughter, who is (like her mother) a car aficionado. Right now, she is particularly fond of Porsches, but any classic or sports car will turn her head.

The Stutz Bearcat plays a particularly prominent role in this book. Here is the 1914 model described: 

 Photo by Autoworldmobilia. Creative Commons license.

 Um, yeah, that’s a really pretty set of wheels.

My wife would prefer a Rolls Royce “Silver Ghost,” but that is a matter of taste. I’d probably vote for the C1 Corvette as my dream car - in red and white please - so there you go…

For those who are interested, the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, CA, has a fantastic collection of cars from the early era. It is well worth a visit. We need to return there, now that my kids are old enough to truly appreciate it. 

Back to the book. As I mentioned, this book is geared toward older kids. It has dead bodies, serious injuries, and some definite peril. For my kids, this wasn’t a problem, but your kids may vary.

I did think the era-appropriate feminism was a nice touch. After all, let women compete in races, and next thing you know, they will be wanting to vote! For those of us living 100 years later, we can take for granted that women can do these things, but back then, this was definitely not the case, and we should remember the hard work of the feminists that made this possible for our daughters.

My kids enjoyed this book, and I found it compelling as well.


Hey, a little music for fun. The Velvet Underground name check the Stutz Bearcat:

Riding a Stutz Bear Cat, Jim
ya know, those were different times
all the poets studied rules of verse
and those ladies they rolled their eyes...

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