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What Would Jane Read? Episode 25: LFL #16992, Chicago, Illinois

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What Would Jane Read?
Episode 25

...in Which Action Figure Jane Austen Visits
a Very Small Library in a Very Large City

Can you spot the Little Free Library in this photo?

"We do not look in our great cities for our best morality." Jane Austen (the then-living, writing, non-action-figure Jane) said so in her book Mansfield Park. But sometimes, cultural edification is a higher priority — or so I tried to convince Action Figure Jane this summer, when we visited Chicago for a writing awards program.

Jane approved of the Palmer House Hotel where we stayed. I thought it was full of Old World elegance. Jane agreed about the elegance. But the hotel opened in 1873, well after her death in 1817, and thus didn't seem terribly old to her. She enjoyed seeing all the science fiction and fantasy authors who attended the event, and wished she had been offered more opportunities for conversing in person with other writers, back in her own day, when a well-bred unmarried woman simply did not attend such events, at least not without a suitably respectable male escort. After the conference ended, Jane and I had a few hours free before leaving town, so we decided to take a walk to some Little Free Libraries down Michigan Avenue.

We had hoped to visit two of them. But we never found the first. We located the address, but all we encountered there was a modest cafe with no little book box at all. The place didn't even have a bookshelf. The Little Free Library must have been shut down. We hate it when that happens.

Disappointed, we pressed on, even more determined to find the second Little Free Library, though we knew we'd be hard-pressed to make it back to the hotel in time to leave the ci
ty on schedule. We had seen many LFLs in the suburbs already. But Jane could not bear to leave Chicago without visiting at least one urban Little Free Library, as well.

We had no exact address for the next book box on our list, only GPS coordinates, and no GPS. But we had seen its marker on the Little Free Library website map, clearly on Michigan Ave., and we knew which cross streets to search near, though we weren't sure which side of the street we should be watching.

We had walked a mile and a half before eagle-eyed Jane spotted it across the street from us. It was wedged into a nook in the corner of a building, sheltered by an ash tree so that it wasn't readily apparent. Can you spot it in the photo at the top of the page? Start at the left side of the photo and look at the tree about a third of the way across. If you peer into the shadows of the tree, you will notice a boxlike structure there. That's the Little Free Library! Here is more of a closeup.
When you approach LFL#16992, the first thing you'll notice is that it's actually a piece of furniture, a small black cabinet that looks charming but was clearly designed for an interior space, not for a Chicago winter. (Please talk among yourselves for a moment while I explain Chicago winters to Jane.... Thank you. She says she is beginning to understand the lack of genteel moderation in American life, and believes it may bear some relation to the lack of genteel moderation in the American climate. After all, she is English.) Perhaps, I suggested, this is one of those midwestern Little Free Libraries whose stewards bring them inside for the winter. To hibernate. Like bears.

The second thing the observer might notice about LFL#16992 is its official Little Free Library sign, which has a message scrawled across it: "Keep Havin a Good Day!!!!"

The inscription puzzled Jane, and not just because of the three exclamation points at its end. She assumes they are yet another sign of the aforementioned American lack of genteel moderation, and even admits that she finds herself growing rather fond of the American penchant for extremes. She can even overlook the characteristic American presumptuousness of telling another what kind of day to have. But as a proper English writer, she is having trouble embracing the omission of the ultimate "g" that has resulted in the word, "Havin," and wonders if the person who wrote the inscription perhaps should spend more time reading the books contained in the Little Free Library, for more exposure to properly spelled words. She does lament that those books, in all likelihood, spell "colour" as "color" and "centre" as "center." But Jane tries to be openminded about American idiosyncrasies.

Speaking of the books inside LFL#16992, Jane was pleased to see that it was well-stocked with a wide variety of volumes. We had given away all of our Jane Austen books to the many LFLs we had already visited in the Chicago suburbs, so instead we left a Charlaine Harris vampire mystery, All Together Dead. You may assume Jane would be shocked by the very idea of a vampire mystery, but you would be mistaken. While Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was not published until nearly a year after Jane's death, and writers of Jane's own period tended to be, like Jane, of a more rational mindset, Jane was of course familiar with the long tradition of supernatural tales, even English ones, dating back to such iconic writers as William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, to say nothing of the folklore of many cultures. On the other hand, she would most certainly have been shocked by the sexual exploits of Charlaine Harris's characters, and by Harris's frank descriptions of said exploits, so I did not suggest that she read the book before we donated it.

As for what book she might be interested in taking from the library, Action Figure Jane found the choice to be an easy one. The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory, was the one that caught her attention. The history of the British monarchy is, of course, near to her heart. And she was curious to read a modern interpretation of the life of Katherine o
f Aragon.

As expected, the walk there and back took longer than we had allotted, and we were late in getting on the road. But it was all in the service of literature, which of course, is a higher calling than punctuality. Even if you're English.

Until next time, Jane sincerely entreats you to Keep Havin a Good Day.

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#24 - Columbus, OH - #1277
#23 - Greenville, SC - #7649
#22 - Lexington, VA - #2321
#21 - Wilmington, DE - #2966
#19 - Quinton, VA - #11989
#18 Wheaton, IL - not numbered
#17 Homewood, IL - #14784
#16 Lafayette, IN - #5514
#15 Taylors, SC - #12893
#14 Greenville, SC - #1368
#13 Baltimore, MD - #9459
#12 Baltimore, MD - #1521
#11 Kings Mountain, NC - #5009
#10 Spartanburg, SC - #12365
#9 Alexandria, VA - #10924
#8 Simpsonville, SC - #9761
#7 Alexandria, VA - not numbered
#6 Alexandria, VA - #4289
#5 Kannapolis, NC - #7277
#4 Newark, DE - #5837
#3 Arlington, VA - #10419
#2 Alexandria, VA - #5491
#1 Alexandria, VA (my own LFL) - #9136

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