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What Would Jane Read? Episode 30: LFL #38094, Orlando, Florida

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What Would Jane Read?
Episode 30

...in Which Action Figure Jane Austen
Experiences Ups and Downs in Orlando

Action Figure Jane Austen accompanied my family and me on a road trip to Florida this summer. We didn't have time to seek out every Little Free Library in Orlando. (How wonderful that the little book boxes have multiplied to that the extent that this isn't always possible!) We did our research ahead of time, and arrived with the goal of visiting three LFLs, all of them brand new, and all of them within a few blocks of each other, in the Lancaster Park section of the city.

Of course, that was not our only goal for Orlando. Among other destinations, we were intent on experiencing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Jane had been flabbergasted when I told her there a large, elaborately designed space was dedicated to bringing to life the world described in a series of novels. She is familiar with the fantasy genre — books with gothic settings and fantastical elements were popular in her day — but she reacted against such excesses in her own realistic, well measured plots. Still, she found the Harry Potter-themed world to be creative and exhilarating. She had never imagined such a thrill as riding a roller coaster! (Being an Action Figure, Jane did not meet the 54-inch minimum height for riding the Hungarian Horntail on the Dragon Challenge coaster, but hid in a rider's pocket.) When I declined the opportunity to ride the coaster, she delighted in using some of her newly learned modern American slang to call me a wimp.

Jane is now considering petitioning Universal to add a new theme park area based on her own novels (or on one of the many film adaptations, if a movie tie-in is absolutely necessary). Despite my own reservations about marketability, she proposes calling it The Genteel World of Jane Austen.

But we digress.

I had chosen the Lancaster Park Little Free Libraries because one had a plaque in memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings, which had happened nearby only two weeks earlier. That Little Free Library, charter number 38094, was our first stop that day, and the object of this narrative.

This sturdy, well-crafted LFL is set in a lovely neighborhood amid eclectic homes, vivid crepe myrtle, and moss-draped live oak trees. The book box is large, with two shelves well stocked with books. Colorful hearts and other decorations adorn the library and its surroundings, and a black wrought-iron bench offers a convenient spot for reading.

But what to read? Jane adores strong heroines, so she chose The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, by Susan Jane Gilman, about a plucky immigrant girl's rise from poverty to success in business in early 20th century New York. Jane is still uncertain as to the suitability of business as an occupation for a proper young woman, but she is willing to make concessions to changing times. Certainly, Elizabeth Bennet could have done well in business, if she'd been given the chance.

Speaking of Elizabeth Bennet, that capable and witty young woman is the protagonist of the book Jane left in the Little Free Library. Sort of. Jane donated to #38094 a copy of a unique new version of her own most beloved novel. The book features the Bennetts, Mr. Darcy, and the other friends and scoundrels from her classic book — except that they're all guinea pigs. Appropriately, this adorable little book is called A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice.

Jane is uncertain as to whether she should feel outraged or flattered by the existence of this book, but has decided to accept it as a good-natured tribute to her work. She hopes that a young reader, upon seeing the story told from the guinea-pig viewpoint, might be inclined to secure a copy of the original, human-inhabited work, and read it as well, thus becoming a new reader for all of Jane's novels.

The interior of the Little Free Library was thoughtfully organized into books for adults, children, and young adults, with labeled sections, all three containing excellent, diverse collections. A miniature blank book with a Dr. Seuss cover served as the library's guestbook, and Jane and I were happy to sign in. The LFL steward generously provided freebies, as well — bookmarks and colorful pencils. All in all, it was one of the most pleasant Little Free Libraries Jane has seen.

Jane's cheerful mood plummeted when we read the inscription on the plaque above the Little Free Library's door:

"In Remembrance of the Pulse Victims
May knowledge teach us to
LOVE one another.
Spread knowledge...
Spread the LOVE."

Forty-nine people had been murdered at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in an act motivated by hatred, intolerance, and pure evil. The plaque expressed a lovely sentiment, and Jane and I dearly hope that — since magic spells are, unfortunately, limited to Harry Potter's wizarding world — knowledge, love, and books can someday cure our own world of such horrendous acts of violence.

(Click here to link to a description of our visit that day to the memorial set up in front of the Pulse nightclub.)

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