The Metropolitan Library System, which serves this neck of the woods, prints out a handy little tape when you check out materials, which contains the borrower's name (though not the associated card number), a list of the materials checked out, and when they're due back. Typically, the librarian doing the actual checkout will slide it into one of the items if possible. (Easy to do with a book; perhaps not so easy to do with some of the audio-visual materials.) When I get home, I park the tape on my desk where it remains visible for the next two weeks, because when I didn't do that, I tended to run up fines not big ones, but still: fines.

Saturday night I started on one of the books I'd checked out that afternoon: Debra Spark's The Pretty Girl. First paragraph of the book description on Amazon:

From Victorian toy theatres to a painting with a mysterious story behind it to a graphic novelist's battle with the schizophrenia which causes her cartoon characters to march off the page, the novella and six stories in Debra Spark's fourth work of fiction, The Pretty Girl, revolve around artists, artistry, and the magical sometimes malicious deceptions they create. With settings that traverse New York's Lower East Side, Victorian London, Paris and Switzerland, Spark's stories twist and turn in mesmerizing ways as they reflect on the fictions we fabricate about and for friends, family, and strangers.

Between pages 42 and 43, I found the MLS tape for the last time this book had been checked out, shortly after Thanksgiving. Quick and dirty bookmark? Maybe. No telling, and I'm not about to tell you who she is or exactly what she was reading. However, I did actually look up those other three books, all fiction, and found:

  • The fourth (and last, apparently) in a popular religious romance series;

  • A tale of a southern Appalachian family, set in the days when lumber companies were an existential threat;

  • First in a new series, centered on a bed-and-breakfast in the Pacific Northwest.

It seems to me, based solely on the descriptions, that The Pretty Girl was the outlier of the bunch. Did our reader start it and give up at page 42? (The novella, about "a painting with a mysterious story behind it," occupies the first half of the book, running about 100 pages.) We know this much: all four of these books were published in 2012, and were picked up from the Fiction section of the New Books shelf, which occupies about half the available space. "New" is, of course, subject to discussion; "within the last year" is closer to the mark. I suspect that our reader goes straight to that shelf and picks up about as many titles as she thinks she'll be able to read in the next fourteen days, which is almost exactly what I do, though I get slightly more nonfiction than fiction titles.

While this might have been more entertaining had I spilled more of the beans, I have to assume that our reader would not be pleased to have a whole lot of presumably private information show up on the Web in this way. (The stuff I read, bought or borrowed, now shows up on the blog sidebar, but I've long been known for TMI.)

And, not surprisingly, I found myself with a quandary. Suppose that she'd checked out four books that I myself might have conceivably checked out. Does the suggestion of common interests confer upon me a right to make use of this information for my own, um, personal purposes? Conscience requires me to say no. Moreover, common interests, in and of themselves, would not make a relationship work: liking the same things does not mean that two people will like (let alone anything stronger than that) each other. Still, the fact that I thought about that at all worries me.

The Vent

  7 January 2013

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 Copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Hill