A side question for library geeks: When it comes to research, are you more of a SIBL or a Central BPL advocate? I have my own thoughts on the pros and cons of each library, and I do indeed like each one in different ways. (Sadly, SIBL has replaced Lexis with Factiva. But there are still some worthwhile resources here.) The one thing that has truly astonished me since moving to New York is the remarkable protectiveness that university libraries have towards their collections. You can’t even walk into these places and just look at — not borrow — the books. Back in San Francisco, I could walk right into the J. Paul Leonard library and park my buttocks at a LEXIS Academic Universe carrel. I could also talk my way into the libraries at Cal, since they weren’t that hard-core about checking ID — or, at least, not with me. Such is not the case here in New York, which seems to fear the vox populi getting their grubby little fingers on an obscure tome. And that’s just inside the library. (Is seeking knowledge considered a terrorist act?) I suppose I can understand this sentiment in relation to private university libraries. But this student ID policy is also enacted at the CUNY libraries. And given that public tax money helps to sustain these libraries, I find it immensely hypocritical for a public university library to deny resources to the public. Even crazier, there’s a racket called the Metropolitan New York Library Council, in which you have to belong to an organization just to get access to one specific book that isn’t available elsewhere, and that you have to request special permission only for these books. I don’t think this is what the people who built these libraries had in mind. On the private university library front, sure, you can become a Friend of the Bobst Library, but it will cost you a minimum of $175/year if you want to access the NYU library more than three times a year. (And if you want year-round Lexis access, the best deal I’ve uncovered is the Queens College library, where a $50 minimum donation will get you in and get you borrowing privileges.) It seems that New York is very much predicated on the idea that knowledge belongs only to those who can pay for it. But I find this to be a repellent and decidedly antidemocratic notion.
Another year, another dispute over Gene Wolfe. While I can understand Waggish’s frustrations about the Book of the New Sun series, I side with Richard in this case. The books can be enjoyed even if you don’t figure out all of the puzzles and even if Wolfe ain’t exactly forthcoming about such details as Severian’s sister. Waggish appears to be upset because Wolfe’s plots aren’t spoon-fed to him, thus presenting the suggestion in Waggish’s mind that the half-revealed details don’t add up to something. Well, that is his judgment, not Wolfe’s. He seems upset that Wolfe would rather write novels playing by his own rules. Which is a bit like a snotty undergraduate complaining that Ulysses is just too damn hard and that therefore it is James Joyce who has failed. When, in fact, the answer involves rereading the book again and again. Or moving onto other books. Or trying again years later when one is (hopefully) a bit smarter.