Posts by Robert Armitage

Swan Song

My job has offered many satisfactions. It is my way of engaging with the world. Although it would be impossible to guess how many people I've encountered in my librarian capacity, I can only hope that I've managed to clear up even a bit of bewilderment and confusion.

The Time Machine: Reading List 2013

Some years ago, while considering ideas for my next blog post, I thought I might compile a list of the books I had read during the previous year—not only to keep a record for myself (tending, as I do, to forget things), but to share my bookish enthusiasms and perhaps offer a few recommendations to anyone who might be interested. Then, before I knew it, another list came along, and then another, and now, in what seems the blink of an eye, it is four years later, and I am putting together yet another list of books read during the improbable year just passed. I don't think it is coincidental 

Edith Wharton, A Writing Life: Marriage

In a writer's life, nothing is ever wasted. Every wrinkle in the fabric of experience can be transformed into fictional material. Although there is nothing directly autobiographical in the novels and stories of American novelist Edith Wharton (born Edith Jones), they reflect very distinctly both the shape of her life and the movements of her thought. In my previous post about her childhood, I left off with an unresolved question, one which would have been deeply troubling to Lucretia Jones, Edith's 

Edith Wharton, A Writing Life: Childhood

Edith Wharton, by Edward Harrison May National Portrait Gallery NPG.82.136This coming fall, perhaps in September, I will be giving a library talk called "Edith Wharton: A Writing Life." In preparation, I have been immersing myself in Wharton's novels and stories. Although the fiction is often set in a New York as remote from us as an ancient city, among a wealthy and exclusive class many generations removed from today's social elite, what strikes me most powerfully is how modern it all 

Back to Bradbury

"I wouldn't want the nursery locked up," said Peter coldly. "Ever."

"Matter of fact, we're thinking of turning the whole house off for about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence."

"That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and comb my hair and give myself a bath?"

"It would be fun for a change, don't you think?"

"No, it would be horrid. . ."

Ray Bradbury, "The 

Bookstore Mystique: Martin Boyd, Joyce Cary, and Elizabeth Bowen

There was a time — in what has come to seem more and more a mythical past — when books were everywhere. Along the relatively short stretch of Fifth Avenue between the New York Public Library and Central Park were three magnificent bookstores: Doubleday, Brentano's, and the most architecturally stunning of them all, Scribner's. Around the corner on 47th Street was

Clinging to Books: Reading List 2012

During my vacation from the library, between Christmas and New Year's Day, I learned a remarkable lesson. You can get along very well without NEWS. For a full week, I entered a blissfully news-free vacuum. No NPR; no relentless checking of Google News; no Sunday New York Times beyond Arts and Leisure and the Book Review. I didn't care if it was the twenty-first century or the fifteenth. Without that drumbeat of doom in my head all the time, I could focus on what was really important: family, friends, dining, museums, and music.

Since winter is my favorite time 

Summer Reading When It's Too Darn Hot To Do Anything Else

According to the Kinsey Report Ev'ry average man you know

The Passionate Brontës

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. (The Catcher in the Rye)

Over the last few months, I have read all seven novels, many of the poems, and selected bits of juvenilia by the three Brontë sisters — as well as several biographies, odds and ends of literary criticism, and a

Words or Music, Part 4: Macbeth and Manon

I have spent a lifetime reading books and perhaps half a lifetime going to the opera. Each is a very real pleasure — neither can be done without — yet both offer different kinds of satisfaction. Words? Music? Which is more important? Fortunately, I am not in the position of having to choose. Books can sometimes lead to opera; opera can sometimes find its way back into books. Since the library specializes in both these worlds of artistic expression, it might be intriguing to look briefly at some of the places they intersect.

* * 

Midwinter Reading: Reginald Hill, Teju Cole & Anne Brontë

When a favorite author dies, we feel as if we have lost a good friend. When the author is the creator of a series whose characters we have lived with for many years, we feel as if we've lost a roomful of friends.

I was saddened last month when I turned a page in the New York Times and discovered an obituary for Reginald Hill, dead at the age of 75. For some time now, I have been following the adventures of several literary detectives, trying to remain 

Brontë Mania

Novels don't need illustrations. An author should be able to conjure the appropriate word pictures without having to rely on the interpretations of some interfering third-party illustrator. Yet some books seem curiously mated to their illustrations. You have only to think of Dickens and Cruikshank, or Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel. To this short list I would add Charlotte and Emily Brontë and one of their latter-day illustrators,

Horrors! Another Quiz...

[Today's guest blogger is brought to you courtesy of E. C. Comics Tales From the Crypt.]

Hello, kiddies!

Welcome to The New York Public Li-bury!


Surprised to find me as your guest flogger? I suppose, if you looked hard enough, you'd find all sorts of things buried in the Library's hacks. "But can he write?" you ask. Well, I am good at de-composing!

For all you skullers and hackademics out there, I would like to present another quivering collection of 

Time Will Tell: Book List 2011

The holiday season has by now been packed away on the top shelf of the closet until next year.

This winter marks two years since I traded my turbulent Manhattan life-style for the calmer waters of Westchester.

It has been 12 years since the start of the new millennium, when we all feared that Y2K would suddenly stop all the world’s computers, and we’d end up back in caves reading real books by firelight.

I started to work in the

Invitation to "Out of the Blacking Factory: Charles Dickens at the New York Public Library"

I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas... It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous, and demoralizing subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press; on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages.

From: Dramatic Opinions and Essays: With an Apology, by Bernard 

Forsaken Authors: Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more.                                  Hemingway, "In Another Country"

We embrace some authors and remain faithful to them for the rest of our lives; others are good for one mad fling but are then quickly forsaken — we move on and don’t look back.

If you have not yet seen the appealing new Woody Allen comedy

Subversive Shaw, Part 3: Common Sense About the War

"The hag Sedition was your mother, and Perversity begot you. Mischief was your midwife and Misrule your nurse, and Unreason brought you up at her feet — no other ancestry and rearing had you, you freakish homunculus, germinated outside of lawful procreation."  — Fellow playwright Henry Arthur Jones, on Bernard Shaw and his anti-war stance

Whenever I'm foolhardy enough to pick up a newspaper or listen to the evening news, I begin to worry that the world has finally stumbled into a mess from which it will never be able to 

Subversive Shaw, Part 2: Politics, Women, and Sex

“If I were a woman, I’d simply refuse to speak to any man or do anything for men until I got the vote... Women should have a revolution! They should shoot, kill, maim, destroy — until they are given the vote.”

Interview, George Bernard Shaw The Tribune, March 12, 1906

This blog post is one of the few spaces left in the Internet universe that will guarantee 

He Said/She Said: A Literary Quiz

"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

— Jane Austen, Emma

A large percentage of my favorite authors (not to mention people) happen to be women. Whether this is a comment about the nature of imaginative writing or about my own nature I have yet to work out. Of course it is no surprise that men can be just as sensitive as women and that women can be just as bloodthirsty as men, but how exactly does this translate to the fictional universe? Are there certain gender-based qualities which color the writing of one sex as opposed 

"Reader, I married him." A Literary Quiz

They say we no longer read for pleasure. They say we’re too busy with our tweets and texts, our iPads and iPhones and iPods, and our thousands of virtual Facebook friends even to consider picking up a book. They say that teachers are afraid to assign their students complete novels for fear they will never be read in entirety. They also say we are each and every day afflicted with such an enormous amount of undigested electronic information that we stand no chance of sorting out even the smallest part of it.

They say we have the attention span of