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Andrea’s Pick of the Week: The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt

When it’s film awards season, you often hear critics saying something like, “Hollywood loves movies about the film industry.” I picked up The Librarianist using that same logic – I’m a librarian, so I’ll like a book about libraries. I was wrong about the subject of the book – this isn’t really a book about libraries. Instead, it’s a poignant character study of a solitary librarian who finds community in the later years of his life.

photo by Gustavo deWitt

Bob Comet worked at a small branch library in Portland for 45 years. When we meet him, he is in retirement, living a quiet life unencumbered by family or friends. He spends his days reading and taking long walks around town. He is not lonely, having grown accustomed to his state of solitude since his divorce over four decades ago. A chance encounter with an elderly woman in a convenience store leads him to the Gambell-Reed Senior Center, where Bob decides to volunteer. After a few failed attempts at reading to the seniors, Bob finds a routine just coming in and talking with them. He discovers to his surprise that he values their company. As Bob begins to open himself up, we learn that his past was not as gray and dull as we might have assumed. We meet twenty-something Bob, newly married and hopeful; and then eleven-year-old Bob, who runs away from home and has a grand adventure.

This is a book to be savored as much for its content as its style. One whole section of the book, Bob’s runaway adventure, felt like a Wes Anderson movie put to paper. With a 1940’s oceanside hotel setting, larger-than-life quirky characters, and understated, dialogue, I kept imagining the story in an Andersonian tableau. As in his previous books (The Sisters Brothers, French Exit, etc.), deWitt combines humor and sadness with a dose of the absurd to create a story that is both surprising and tender. If you like slightly eccentric literary fiction, give The Librarianist a try. (Note: the release date is July 4, but you can put the book on hold in our catalog now.)

Categories: Books and More

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