As the voracious reader I am, there are certain groups of books I cannot pass up. Novels about books, libraries, and bookstores are one of the most important of these groups. Sue Halpern has been widely praised for her journalism and criticism. Sue has appeared in an impressive range of publications from Condé Nast Traveler to The New Yorker. She is also a scholar in residence at Milddlebury College, and she was a Rhodes Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow. Her latest effort is a novel, Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, which I found most entertaining.
Solstice, known as “Sunny,” is a teenager who tries to steal a 532-page dictionary by slipping it between her belly and her jeans. She is caught, arrested, and finds herself before a judge, who is reluctant to send a teen to jail for petty theft. Sue writes, “Solstice Arkinsky, for the crime of stealing the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, I hereby sentence you to forty hours a week of community service at the Riverton Public Library, to be carried out every day during summer vacation until the new school year begins” (27). One minor detail is revealed when she says, “I don’t go to school” (28). Sunny is home-schooled by her hippie parents. At first, Sunny is sullen and resentful. She is assigned by the director of the library to serve her time under the watchful eye of a librarian, Kit.
The story carries two distinct plot lines. In addition to Sunny’s narrative, Kit tells her story in sections labeled “The Marriage Story.” The story of these two characters is quite interesting. One of the better aspects of Kit’s story are her occasional visits to her therapist. Halpern writes, “‘I’m a misanthrope,’ she told Dr. Bondi. ‘Being alone suits me’ // He was skeptical. ‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘Maybe now, but I don’t think it’s in your nature.’ / Kit laughed. ‘If it’s nature versus nurture, in this case nurture wins.’ ‘Like I said, I don’t think it’s a permanent feature.’ // But it was. That’s what I had become. And Kit had come to think of herself as a loner, at home in her solitude, like one of those self-reliant spinster women from literature. By the end of the workday she craved nothing more than to hear the creak of the floorboards underfoot and the hum of the refrigerator that suffused the house. By the end of the week, she was content to putter, to speak only the occasional greeting to passersby if she happened to be on the porch, to ask little of others and be asked little in return” (115). Sunny and Kit become close friends. Kit invites Sunny to stay overnight on occasions when her parents were out of town.
Before her divorce, Kit was a teacher, “It was books I was drawn to—the smell of them, the feel of them, the way they invaded and captured me—not talking about books. I enrolled in library school and got a part-time job at a used book store, taking orders over the phone” (195).
A trifecta! What could be better-- English teachers, books, and libraries! Anyone interested in these three pillars of knowledge will surely find Sue Halpern’s novel, Summer Hours at the Robbers Library a delightful read! 5 Stars