Adult & Community Engagement librarian Lori Hench of the Baltimore County Public Library talks to Celadon about the books that have impacted her the most.
By Jennifer Jackson
What is your favorite thing about your library?
Our 19 branches and four bookmobiles serve a diverse county of more than 830,000 people. With a guiding philosophy of “give ‘em what they want,” our electronic and print collections can inform, educate, entertain and enrich every one of those people and their only cost is the time it takes to get a free library card. Public libraries are amazing in both concept and practice.
I have an unholy love of my e-reader, so my personal “favorite thing” is our e-book collection. How can you not think one of the greatest technological advances ever is the ability to download your next library book at 2 a.m.?
What book has made the greatest impact on you?
As a voracious reader, it’s impossible to narrow it down to one. Literature has such tremendous power to transform, and each of these modern classics, to paraphrase Joyce Carol Oates, allowed me as the reader to slip into someone else’s skin and soul: The Grapes of Wrath, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Pickup, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Lesson Before Dying. As a younger reader, The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien, a surprisingly creepy read for the elementary-age set, showcased a strong resourceful girl outwitting evil; I’ve never forgotten it (or the nightmares it triggered).
What book do you recommend most and why?
Books are not one size fits all, and the fastest way to see a customer’s eyes glaze over is to wax rhapsodic over a book in which they have no interest. I’d rather suss out a book or author a person’s enjoyed before I start with informed suggestions. If they’re not forthcoming, I don’t push, but offer up newer bestsellers in all genres, fiction and nonfiction, and see what sticks. That said, if someone is a fan of literary WWII historical fiction, I’m recommending The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng; it’s the All the Light We Cannot See that no one’s ever heard of.
What’s the last great book you read?
Let’s stick to 2019. The book that let me slip into someone else’s soul? On Division by Goldie Goldbloom, a quiet and deeply moving story of an Chassidic woman in Brooklyn, who finds out that, at age 57, she’s pregnant with twins; it’s really a beautiful coming of age story. And Here We Are, Aarti Shahani’s memoir about her immigrant father’s struggles with the American court system, which nearly destroyed her family, is another great read.
What’s your favorite genre?
Maybe historical fiction. I’m a fan of anything that sends me to Google to learn more, and historical fiction is usually rife with prompts. Suspense/thrillers and crime fiction in general are close seconds (read Attica Locke! William Kent Krueger! Becky Masterman!), and since all these are popular genres, my reading tastes come in handy for readers advisory.
What’s the most unique or memorable book request you’ve gotten?
Over a summer, the same customer sought me out repeatedly for book recommendations, and I thought “wow, she must be a kindred spirit, reading-wise,” and you know, I was kind of pleased with myself and the titles I suggested. That bubble burst when, unexpectedly, she told me that she disliked every book I’d given her, and I never saw her again.
What have been the biggest book trends at your library in the past six months?
People pay close attention to the celebrity book club picks. Oprah started it, and when she or Reese Witherspoon or Jenna Bush Hager announce a selection, our holds skyrocket. Non-fiction books about politics are flying off the shelves. Probably neither of those trends are surprising; I think they reflect our current culture.