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What Would Jane Read? Episode 28: LFL #4383, Hazel Park, MI

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What Would Jane Read?
Episode 28

...in Which Action Figure Jane Visits a Colorful
Little Free Library. With Signs of the Times.

It was the day of the summer solstice, and Action Figure Jane Austen and I were traveling in Michigan with my family. We were leaving the Detroit area that day to head north to Mackinaw City. But we had read of several Little Free Libraries in the area and were determined to visit at least a few of them on our way out of the city. One such stop was in Hazel Park, a suburb of Detroit.

We turned onto John R Road, and speculated about what the R might stand for. (I have since looked it up. Click here for the story behind the road's name.) But we knew we were on the right road; the Little Free Library is at 21809 John R Road in Hazel Park. The neighborhood seemed depressed, with boarded-up buildings and little activity. So we thought a Little Free Library might be just the prescription for perking the place up. Then Jane and I spotted the colorful book box in a tiny urban park that stood in sharp contrast to its surroundings. Definitely perky. We pulled into the nearest driveway to investigate.

The park was full of flowers and bright green grass. Its centerpiece (in addition to the Little Free Library, of course) was a piece of urban art created from old street signs. The LFL itself also fit the recycling theme. It was made from a repurposed newspaper box, painted in a vivid lemon-lime shade with a cheerful floral motif. The LFL did not have an official sign in evidence that day, but we later looked it up and learned that it is officially registered as LFL #4383.

We were all ready for a break, so instead of waiting in the car while Action Figure Jane Austen and I visited the LFL, my husband and son joined us in the colorful little oasis. My son liked the street-sign sculpture and the picnic table painted with a chessboard. If he'd had his chess set handy, he probably would have challenged his dad to a game. Or possibly Jane. But Jane and I were all about the books.

Unfortunately, the Little Free Library contained only a few books, and most of them were in poor condition. We contributed a copy of Jane's novel, Sense & Sensibility, which was the second novel she wrote, but the first to be published. (Ours was the edition with the cover shot from the Emma Thompson movie version.) Then Jane and I returned to the Prius to find some more books to leave behind. We had limited space in the car on this trip, and so were not carrying a large library of books to give away. But we filled the box with as many as we could spare from our duffel bag full 'o' books. And Jane sincerely hopes that the neighborhood residents make good use of them.

Then we took photos: my son Jon Morgan at the chessboard table, and both he and Jane posing by the street-sign sculpture. Jane admitted to feeling perplexed by the signs, not understanding either their original purpose or my description of the array as a sort of modern art.

In Jane's time, art that was called modern was part of the Romantic movement. In painting, Romanticism included the highly emotional works of such artists as Courbet and Delacroix. A literary corollary would be Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, published about 30 years after Jane's own Pride & Prejudice and known for its highly charged, melodramatic tone. Emotional and melodramatic are not words one would use to describe repurposed interstate signs, so my description of the sculpture as modern art was lost on Action Figure Jane, as was the original purpose of an interstate sign.

My son (known to the family as "The Human GPS") explained to Jane about the interstate highway system. Jane has, of course, traveled on it many times in the pursuit of Little Free Libraries around various parts of the country, but she usually prefers to remain comfortable in her bag rather than look out the window when the car is moving at high speed, a condition that to her seems admittedly convenient, but most unnatural.

Next door to the Little Free Library's park was an old-fashioned take-out ice-cream shop called the Dairy Park. We decided to stop for a treat, as long as we were there. Ice cream was eaten in 19th-century England, but only in the cities, as well as at the large country manor houses rich enough to boast their own ice houses. Jane lived in the countryside, so Action Figure Jane was familiar with ice cream, but only as a rare treat. Michigan — especially northern Michigan, where we were heading — is known for ice cream, so she'd been hoping to taste some on this trip. Unfortunately the Dairy Park seemed to have closed permanently. So instead, we climbed back into the Prius, and resumed our search for Little Free Libraries. And ice cream.

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