So what happens when a real librarian (yep, referring to myself) reads the book Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians? The real librarian (yep, still me)… laughs and enjoys the equal-opportunity humor, of course!
(I suppose that means I’m not an evil librarian myself? Or am I just double-bluffing… 😉 )
I had read a few reviews of Brandon Sanderson’s book when it first came out in 2007 — including a rave review and recommendation on NPR by Nancy Pearl, a legendary librarian in her own right (she of the Book Lust fame and model for the shushing librarian “action figure,” as seen here). Sanderson has since penned three additional titles in the series.
The first book, with its irresistible title, had been on the fringes of my radar, but I had never gotten around to reading it. Until recently, that is, when a work colleague at our library loaned me her copy of The Complete Alcatraz, an omnibus of the four titles (thus far) in the Alcatraz series. She thought I’d get a kick out of it — and she was right!
The first title in the series, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, definitely starts out with a bang, with this opening line:
Turns out, this opening sentence was what inspired Sanderson to write the whole book! As he reveals on his personal website:
The book began, essentially, as a free-write based on what became the first line: “So, there I was, tied to an altar made from out-dated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.”
So what’s the book all about? Alcatraz Smedry has grown up in Libraria — the United States, Canada, and England, countries controlled by librarians — often referred to as the Hushlands. (Ha!) On his 13th birthday, Alcatraz receives a mysterious package full of sand… and is quickly thrust into an adventure involving oculator lenses, self-driving cars, talking dinosaurs who also love reading, and of course, evil librarians.
It’s a fun, quick tale, overflowing with magic and adventure and snarky humor. The first-person narrator style took me some getting use to, and I can imagine future tales getting a bit formulaic in that Lemony Snicket kind of way. But overall, I quite enjoyed the book, and I liked the twist on so-called “flaws” turning out to be heroic talents (the power to “break things” is a powerful talent, for example, as is the talent for arriving late to things as well as the talent for tripping).
Side note: I myself am a dropper — if only dropping things were a talent to be admired… 😉
Here are some choice bon mots about those evil librarians and their dastardly deeds:
He was accompanied by a large group of Librarians — not the skinny, robe-wearing kind but the bulky, overmuscled kind in the bow ties and sunglasses, as well as a couple of sword-wielding women wearing skirts, their hair in buns.
Bastille shuddered. “Papercuts,” she said. “The worst form of torture.”
I looked up at the dungeon guard, who had walked over to watch me. He wore the clothing one might have expected of a Librarian — an unfashionable knit vest pulled tight over a buttoned pink shirt, matched by a slightly darker pink bow tie. His glasses even had a bit of tape on them.
–“Somewhere in this room, the Master Librarians have placed one misfiled volume. The apprentices have to find it.”
–I eyed the nearly endless rows of tightly packed bookshelves. “That could take years!” I whispered.
–Sing nodded. “Some go insane from the pressure. They’re usually the ones who get promoted first.”
— “Why do the Librarians work so hard to keep everything quiet?” I asked. “Why go to all that trouble? What’s the point?”
— “Do you have to have a point if you’re an evil sect of Librarians?”
Of course, the Librarians in this story are “evil” because they are trying to control information. And while this story is firmly tongue-in-cheek (a cheek that stings from a strategically placed papercut, no doubt), there is something underlying that image of librarians “hoarding” or “controlling” information, resources, access, etc.
If you dare, I’ve written about that tension that exists between order and chaos within a librarian’s world in my “Between perfect order and perfect chaos” post, and I’ve also explored the “Librarian as nightmare” image. I’ve even delved into darker territory in my “Killer librarians” post… now there are some truly evil librarian portrayals!
Last, but not least, a shout-out of thanks goes to my colleague for lending me her copy of this fun series. I couldn’t resist sharing it on this blog — a side sojourn worthy of interest, surely, for the Reel Librarian reader.
Has anyone else read this series? If not, are you interested in reading about Alcatraz and his adventures fighting the Evil Librarians? What’s your own hidden “talent”? Please leave a comment and let me know!