John, I am more well-disposed toward modern architecture than many of our colleagues around here (National Review: Standing athwart History, yelling, “Stop Le Corbusier!”) but I also laughed a little at that New York Times account of the new library building in Queens. (I sent the article to an eminent friend in the architecture business, who replied: “The horror. The horror.”)
What I noticed was what was missing from the catalogue of “zigzagging stairs that trace the funny, lively, meandering incision cut into the library’s west wall,” “chairs by Jean Prouvé,” “warm bamboo, with spectacular views,” “a lovely new triangular ginkgo garden, a kind of mini-Place Dauphine, by Michael Van Valkenburgh,” etc.— books. Other than a passing reference to stacks, there was not a word about books.
The Times critic, Michael Kimmelman, no doubt is right that the new building will be “a locus of neighborhood pride for Long Island City.”
Will it also be a library?
Will people read there? Will they borrow books?
On the subject of books, I was much encouraged by the spectacular introduction of Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. (My condolences to the author on the death of Graeme Gibson.) The publication of the book was a genuine event, with her book-launch event broadcast at 1,000 theaters around the world, and writers in The Nation complaining about her plotlines. (One of the hated villains of The Handmaid’s Tale is partly exonerated in the sequel.) It is always fortifying to see people get genuinely excited about a book — and about a novel, no less.
Where people are genuinely stirred up by books, there is hope.