2016-03-31 / Editorial

Forgotten books

Library Links
by Melanie Taylor Coombs

“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the very first time.”

This is the magnificent opening line of “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The novel weaves the tale of a young boy who visits a repository for books that have been forgotten by time and readers. Daniel innocently selects one book to preserve – only to have it thrust him into a tale of murder, madness and doomed love, which takes place in the mean streets of 1940s Barcelona.

When I first read “The Shadow of the Wind” about 10 years ago, I was captivated by the idea of a labyrinth of spiralling shelves of dusty books that were long forgotten. As a librarian, I can attest to the fact that it is very hard to get rid of books. Yet, we often have to make tough decisions based on shelf space. Most readers have a book that resonated with them more than other titles, a story that came into their world at exactly the right place and time.

Recently, I read an article in the New Yorker about a blogger who is trying to keep dying books alive. The site is called www.NeglectedBooks.com: Where forgotten books are remembered and the writer’s name is Brad Bigelow. Reading about his efforts made me start thinking about my own forgotten titles.

When I was a student in Mrs. Chabot’s sixth-grade class at Sanford Middle School many years ago, we were assigned an oral book report. I was not a good reader and I was very nervous about speaking in front of my class. I chose the book “Magic Elizabeth” by Norma Kassirer. Once I started reading about a magical doll, I was transported to another time and place and because I was so excited about MY books, all my fears receded. Since then, this book has always held a special place in my heart. According to a statewide library catalog search, only one Maine library, in Fort Kent, owns the title. The book is now out of print. It could easily slip into obscurity. Many books do.

“The Worm Ouroboros” by Eric Rucker Eddison is a work of high fantasy published in 1922. A fellow bibliophile I know was relentless in getting it republished nearly 80 years later. There is hope for forgotten books when someone doesn’t forget. Just for the heck of it, I looked up former Pulitzer Prize novels to see how these titles fared. Ever hear of the 1918 winner “His Family” by Ernest Poole? How about 1949’s winner “Guard of Honor” by James Gould Couzens? Or 1959’s “The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters” by Robert Lewis Taylor? Fortunately all three titles still exist in Maine libraries.

In recent years Maine libraries began a project called the Maine Shared Collections Cooperative and McArthur Library is a proud member. The objective is to identify scarce items housed in libraries throughout the state and get member libraries to agree to retain them on a permanent basis. Hopefully this will mean even if your favorite book is long forgotten, there will always be one remaining copy somewhere. In the meantime, happy reading and let us know if we can help you find a long lost title from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Melanie Taylor Coombs is adult services supervisor/ librarian at McArthur Public Library.

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