Books about books will always pique my interest, but when highly lauded author Patrick deWitt releases one, I get even more excited. I had really high hopes for The Librarianist and it did not disappoint. It’s a quiet novel about a quiet man, with glimpses of humour and humanity throughout its 300ish pages. The majority of it actually takes place outside a library, but it does spend time describing books and their meaning to our well-read protagonist Bob. I’ll be shocked beyond belief if this book doesn’t appear on award lists this Fall because it’s definitely one of my favourite reads so far this year.

Plot Summary

Bob Comet is a retired librarian. He has lived in the same house all his life, from his boyhood to the present day, and he’s only be married once (for a short time) and only had one lover. He led a fulfilling career when he worked, and his home is still full of books which he enjoys regularly. On one of his daily walks he comes across small a seniors home and decides he wants to volunteer there. During his visits he meets a few people he will later call friends, which launches him into reminiscing about his past. From there the reader is whisked away to different stages of his life; to his awkward childhood, to an adventurous tale of his short stint as a runaway, and finally the months leading up to his marriage and its eventual dissolution. Complementing his quiet and unassuming exterior, the colorful people that have come in and out of Bob’s life are what make this book shine, infusing Bob’s history with a color that keeps these pages turning.

My Thoughts

As in other Patrick deWitt novels, the turns of phrase and dialogue is what sets his writing apart from others. It’s quirky, it’s incredibly unique, and it highlights how weird us humans all are. There are so many little random details that are included, which don’t serve to distract, but simply make us smile, colouring in the picture for us a little more:

“Bob and Ida and June and the dogs went to the diner for dinner but the diner was closed. There was a note taped to the front door: The diner’s shut b/c the cook’s run off. We don’t know where. Do you? Management.

-p.267 of The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt

Obsessive readers like myself will find much to relate to in Bob. Some books about books lean a little too heavily on the passion of booklovers, or they describe the reasoning behind the interest in reading in a saccharine way. Here, deWitt simply states how crucial reading is to Bob, how it’s a part of his life, it always has been, and always will be. It’s like breathing for him, and I couldn’t help myself but nod along. It’s not some romantic hobby that I indulge in with bated breath, it’s simply a part of my day, that will never change.

The arc of the narrative is a new one that will likely surprise most people; it felt like a rollercoaster with regular ups and downs, rather than building towards a single climax or high point. deWitt doesn’t even progress through Comet’s life in a linear way, instead, he jumps back and forth, and I’m still at a loss as to why he chose to do this. It doesn’t detract from the book at all, but it is puzzling. The characters that fill Bob’s life are what elevate this book to something that’s not only entertaining, but award-worthy. Even though we may only get glimpses of their lives, each and every person is memorable in their own way, having a unique way of speaking, holding themselves, and interacting with the world deWitt’s created.

I loved this book, but I’ve loved most of everything from this author, so by now I’m a bit biased towards him. But if you enjoy deep character studies with a lighter side, give this one a try.

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