Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Somewhere Between Homer and Brad Pitt

One of the best things about working in a library is something I would like to call "the serendipity factor."  Serendipity is a kind of happy good luck, something good that happens that you were not expecting, planning, or looking for.  Like falling in love or finding a $20 bill on the edge of the sidewalk.

In the library world, this happy good luck manifests itself as a random book that happens to be returned when I happen to be on desk and able to take notice.  Well, if you are a bit of a nerd who likes to read (like me) you consider it a piece of good luck to find a book that looks interesting, sign it out just 'cause (hey, it doesn't cost anything), and then discover a story that is so compelling that you are unable to put it down.

One of the most recent instances of this kind of happy luck was discovering Ransom by David Malouf.  It is based on one of the oldest narrative traditions in the Western world: the story of the Trojan War.  In ancient times (really, really ancient times) one's primary means of entertainment (in a world without movies, television, the Internet, or even books for that matter) would have been provided by traveling storytellers who would relate tales such as those that eventually were put down in written form as The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Malouf takes Homer's epic stories and slows the pace way down, concentrating on a small but significant portion of the story: the shared grief of Achilles and Priam.  The effect is much like blowing up a photograph to concentrate on a particular detail or freezing a frame of a film.  The blurred characters who before were lost in a wider narrative suddenly are brought down to a more human, more individual level.  Malouf manages to take myth and transform it into a kind of reality with which one can identify.  It is the difference between reading a history of World War II and sitting with your grandfather and listening to his stories - the overarching narrative is the same, but the scope is more intimate, the details more vivid, the story more personal. 

Of course, you do not have to work at a library to experience this kind of serendipity.  Just ask any of us who are fortunate enough to work for the library, and we would be more than happy to share our latest lucky finds with you (and to hear about yours). 

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