Saturday, December 28, 2019

Libraries and librarians take center stage in these works of historical fiction

Fellow librarians: the time for seeing our professional roles and collections depicted in historical fiction has arrived.  We've emerged from beyond the mousy stereotype and have even become trendy.  The titles in the following collage have clear appeal for all bibliophiles, not just those who work with books for a living.  Some were recently published, while you'll find the others appearing next year. Links go to their Goodreads pages.

Nancy Bilyeau's Christmas ghost story The Ghost of Madison Avenue (Amazon, 2019), a novella taking place in 1912 Manhattan, has the memorable setting of financier J. P. Morgan's opulent private library. The title of Janie Chang's The Library of Legends (William Morrow, May 2020) refers to a precious and rare centuries-old collection of myths and legends being transported across China by a group of brave university students as they flee Nanking during their country's war with Japan.  Marble lions flank the entrance of the New York Public Library, the setting for Fiona Davis's The Lions of Fifth Avenue (Dutton, July 2020), a dual-period novel of two women, eighty years apart, whose lives center around the landmark building, and who are both puzzled by mysterious book thefts.

In her multi-period novel Home for Erring and Outcast Girls (Crown, 2019), Julie Kibler, a librarian herself, focuses on a contemporary university librarian investigating the histories of two residents of a progressive home for fallen women in Texas a century earlier. Moyes' The Giver of Stars (Viking, 2019), set in a rural Kentucky mountain town, emphasizes female friendship in its depiction of the region's Depression-era Pack Horse Librarians. The importance of literature and literacy also emerges in The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (Atria, June 2020), which heads to WWII-era Paris to acknowledge the valiant workers at the American Library of Paris, which remained open and supplying books during the Nazi occupation.

Richardson's The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (Sourcebooks, 2019) centers themes of literacy and prejudice in the story of a young Appalachian woman, one of Kentucky's "blue people," who delivers books to mountain residents in the Depression years. Sarah Sundin, a prolific chronicler of WWII-era settings in her inspirational romances, has a librarian heroine for her moving, hopeful The Land Beneath Us (Revell, Feb. 2020), set at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and overseas. Salley Vickers' The Librarian (Viking UK, 2018), described as "charmingly subversive" by the publisher, follows a young children's librarian in a small town in 1950s England which has its fill of gossip and secrets.

In addition, Publishers Marketplace includes a recent deal for Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray's The Personal Librarian, about Belle da Costa Greene, a woman of color who became J. P. Morgan's librarian in 1905; the novel will appear from Berkley in 2021. Greene also plays a prominent role in Nancy Bilyeau's novella, above.


  1. Sarah,
    This blog post was shared on Twitter, and I am so glad that I found it! It looks like we librarians are becoming quite the trendsetters! Lol
    As a fellow librarian & historical fiction lover, I only had to read this post & glance at the "About Me" section to know that I will most definitely be following you from this moment forward.

  2. Hi, Diane, I'm glad you found the post, and thanks for commenting and following! It's been great to see ourselves finally in the spotlight in my favorite genre.

  3. Librarians have always been my heroes. That is all.