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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, January 30, 2015

'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' would've been worth the fine

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra, a 2013 novel set in a war-torn village in Chechnya, was recommended to me by a couple of friends.

After borrowing a copy from the Saratoga Springs Public Library and reading the first three pages, I was hooked. I selected it as my book club’s read the next time it was my turn to pick.

I love this book, but one copy suffices. The library initially
insisted I couldn't renew my copy because someone had
reserved it, even though several were in the stacks.
The library's Jeannine Jeter solved the problem.
Marra’s writing is beautifully vivid, his story-telling remarkable. Although the main story takes place over only five days, readers learn in layers about the past and future of the main characters as well as those who pass through in only a sentence. Not a word is wasted in what Ron Charles described in the Washington Post as “fresh, graceful prose.”

I’m about a third of the way through the book. I knew it was due any day now, so when I happened to be at the library yesterday, the woman at the checkout desk scanned my key card: “Tomorrow,” she said. Renew it, please. “Can’t,” she replied. “Someone reserved it.”

Probably someone in my book club.

Over in the M’s, five or six copies awaited a borrower. “There’s a bunch of them,” I said. “Just switch the reserved copy to one of the available ones.”

“Can’t,” she replied. Maybe someone at the Information Desk could help, she said.

At the Information Desk was Jeannine Jeter, who appreciated the absurdity of the situation. But she didn’t know how to outsmart the computer system’s insistence that only my copy of the book would satisfy the waiting customer, even though several were in the stacks.

Short-term solution to avoid a late fee: Check out one of the other copies, and return the copy at home before the end of the next day.

A short while later, though, Jeannine sent me a message: She’d figured out how to switch the reserved book request to an available book, and renewed the copy I’d originally borrowed. So now I have two on loan, one of which I will drop off on my way home from work today. I promise.

I love it when someone won’t take no from a computer for an answer, when someone takes the initiative to tackle and solve a problem, for the satisfaction of getting it done. 

Thank you, Jeannine. 


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