The only thing better than getting lost in a library?
Reading a book about one, of course. Whether it’s the Library of Alexandria, the British Library, or your favorite local branch, libraries hold a special place in our hearts and imaginations as portals to all sorts of knowledge and different worlds. If books are a “uniquely portable magic,” as Stephen King says, then libraries are a wellspring of enchantment, places where our imaginations are given license to run free.
My upcoming book The Last Heir to Blackwood Library features a sprawling abbey on the windswept Yorkshire moors. When Ivy Radcliffe inherits the abbey in 1927, she arrives to find that there is a magnificent library kept under lock and key by the servants. It soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary library; the contents of the books seem to spill out into real life, and Ivy’s memory begins to fade with each passing day. Ivy will have to unravel the mystery that lurks at the center of the library if she is to have any chance of saving herself, as well as her beloved abbey.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, then here some other books you might enjoy that feature fantastical libraries, cozy bookstores, and stories that pay homage to the magic of the written word.
Gillian Flynn is the author of dark and winding tales, starting with the blockbuster 2012 novel “Gone Girl,” which pioneered a new era in psychological thrillers (and unreliable narrators). All three of her novels — “Gone Girl,” “Sharp Objects,” and “Dark Places” — were adapted for the screen.
On Oct. 3, Flynn stopped by the 3rd hour of TODAY to share some of the books that she’s reading now. Among them are some 2022 new releases, including the latest work of historical fiction by Kate Atkinson (“Life After Life”) and the debut novel “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams.
Flynn said one pick exemplifies the best of what the mystery genre is capable of; another, she said, is written by “simply one of the best writers working today, anywhere in the world.”
When one of my writing pals sent me a link to a vintage Key West Woman’s Club cookbook published in the 1940’s, the plot for my 12th Key West mystery, A DISH TO DIE FOR, finally took off. First, a little background. Food critic Hayley Snow and her dog find a body on the beach about ten miles north of Key West. It’s a shock of course, and she’s still reeling from the emotional fallout of her discovery when she remembers she’s agreed to help sort donated cookbooks for the Friends of the Key West Library.
When I reached this point in the novel, I’d been talking with my writing friends about struggling with the plot. I loved the opening scenes, but how did this man’s body end up on the beach, and why? And how could I weave in the food angle that is expected with a foodie protagonist? Could something about the donated cookbooks contribute to a murder solution?
Soon after our meeting, my friend Angelo sent this email, along with a photograph of the Key West Cookbook: I don’t know if this would be of any use to you, but I thought you’d find it interesting. I belong to the Historic Florida Page and this came up today. I wonder if they have a copy of the cookbook at your library? It was done by the Key West Woman’s Club. What’s cool is that the book was written out in longhand.
Agatha Christie was sitting quietly on a train when she overheard a stranger saying her name. In the carriage, she said, were “two women discussing me, both with copies of my paperback editions on their knees”. They had no idea of the identity of their fellow passenger, and proceeded to discuss the most famous author in the world. “I hear,” said one of the ladies, “she drinks like a fish.”
I love this story because it sums up so much about Agatha Christie’s life. They both had her paperbacks. Of course they did. Christie wrote more than 80 books, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible, so the cliche runs. And she wasn’t just a novelist, either: she remains history’s most performed female playwright. She was so successful people think of her as an institution, not as a breaker of new ground. But she was both.
And then, in the railway carriage, there’s the watchful presence of Christie herself, unnoticed. Yes, she was easy to overlook, as is the case with nearly any woman past middle age. But she deliberately played on the fact that she seemed so ordinary. It was a public image she carefully crafted to conceal her real self.
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