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Shelf-surfing

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Monday, Feb 9, 2009

In this time of widespread economic crisis, many people are turning to public libraries to supply their recreational reading needs.


At my local public library, the number of hold requests on popular DVD and fiction titles can be rather absurd. For current bestsellers, there might be hundreds of people in the virtual queue waiting for a copy to become available; luckily there are usually a number of copies spread across the various branches in the city system, so eventually one is likely to turn up.


For when you want something to read right now, however, what’s your shelf surfing strategy?


This past weekend I went to the nearest public library branch to return some materials borrowed for a class, and decided to peruse the fiction collection, looking for particular authors. A perennial favorite is Haruki Murakami, and it sometimes interests me to check and see which of his works are available—sometimes at bookstores I will find only Kafka on the Shore or perhaps The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, his other writings shunned or perhaps sold out. Occasionally I’ll find in-stock copies of almost everything he has written, and my level of respect for the book purveyor rises.


It occurred to me, as I meandered among the library shelves last weekend, that I had not checked the Murakami selection at that particular location. Wandering to the ‘M’ shelves I noted several titles I’ve already read, and two copies of his 2007 short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. In the middle of the familiar titles I spotted an odd one: In the Miso Soup. What’s this? I thought. A Murakami title I’ve never heard of? Impossible.


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It turned out to be a case of sloppy shelving. The Miso Soup title was also by Murakami—but in this case, Ryu rather than Haruki. As the spine didn’t give the author’s first name, the book had been shoved in with Haruki’s books.


Intrigued, however, I skimmed the synopsis inside the front cover and read the first page. I ended up taking out both the volume of Haruki’s short stories, and Ryu’s book as well. We’ll see if this turns out to be shelf-surfing serendipity, or a big disappointment.


Have you ever found something enjoyable wedged in with a favorite author’s works?

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