Raymond Chandler and the Mystery of Libraries

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October 23, 2014 by libroshombre

One thing that really sets hard-boiled detective writer Raymond Chandler apart is his attentionFeatured image to details and quick, precise descriptions of people and places. These observations litter his novels without ever seeming to me to disrupt the narrative. In “The Little Sister,” for example, the protagonist Philip Marlowe “stopped across the street from a square building of two stories of rose-red brick with small white leaded bay windows and a Greek porch over the front door and what looked, from across the street, like an antique pewter doorknob.” Moreover, the owner’s name appeared “in black wooden letters severely stylized.”

Chandler was extremely well-read and possessed a vibrant vocabulary. He certainly never stooped to employing “The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations for Readers and Writers,” because Chandler passed away in 1959 and David Grambs didn’t compile “Describer’s Dictionary” until 1993. The book’s mostly pithy quotations, with lists of words scattered under general headings like “Things,” and “Earth and Sky,” with those further subdivided. For instance, I found that Chandler quote under “Things,” “Buildings and Structures,” and “Parts of Structures.”

Featured image            Some of the associated word lists were pretty obvious. For instance, the “Patterns and Sections” part begins, “Having a pattern or design: ‘patterned, designed, figured,’” and “Colors” opens with “Snow white” ‘snowy, niveous,’ White as chalk: ‘chalk white, cretaceous, chalky.’” Others were more valuable, like “Useful Color Modifiers,” a group of eighty terms that starts “antique, bleached-out, bled, bright.” The handbook’s a decent tool to help writers along, but I was saddened to not find any library references. However, that was a “dull, muted, washed-out” sensation compared to my feelings after reading a Dallas Morning News editorial titled “Restore Our Libraries.”

The Dallas Public Library budget was severely reduced during the recenFeatured imaget recession, but the editors pointed out that “This year, the city’s revenue stream might be its most robust in history … The city of Dallas should be able to provide the funding now to a library system that is simply inadequate to the needs of its residents. Yet, as things stand, city management is not planning to substantially increase library spending.” That’s a big reason why my family and I moved here, to a community where books, reading, and informed independent thought are prized.

The new North Pole Branch Library is clear evidence of that. There are still some who harbor the old-fashioned conceit that libraries are basically book warehouses that have been surpassed by computers. In fact, today’s libraries fulfill their ancient functions of collecting information, and organizing, protecting, and disseminating it, and folding in their modern functions of aggregating information affordably, helping users navigate it, and educating them on doing it themselves.

“Why Build Libraries?” an article in last summer’s issue of Public Libraries asked. The author, contributing editor James Larue summarized the library as “a community center, a place for lifelong learning, a place for early childhood, emergent literacy, a creator space, and perhaps most subtle, a statement of community value.”

The first librarFeatured imagey function Larue listed, “community center,” struck a nerve. Years ago a mayor asked for my vision of our library’s future. Besides its traditional functions, I replied, the library is becoming a community commons by providing spaces for large and small meetings, for people to interact with others, or simply hang out, as well as reading, learning, and thinking.

“There is both physical and intellectual acceptance and safety in a library, Larue noted. It is “the epitome of what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a ‘third place,’ neither home nor work, libraries are a space accessible to all where people are free to gather without feeling like loiterers.” The hallmarks of Oldenburg’s “third place” include, “free and inexpensive,” “highly accessible,” and “welcoming and comfortable.” The third place’s descriptors include “neutral ground,” “leveler,” and “a home away from home.”

That sounds like our public library. Personally, I try to avoid nimiety, meaning “excess or redundancy,” when it comes to laying on library-related stuff in this space. But the opening of a brand new library in our midst is worth rejoicing, and so is the realization of why and how libraries are prized in our community.

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