Library Tourism

Perhaps many Mercantile Library patrons, when visiting other cities, seek out the main library of the metropolis, if only for a quick lookabout.  Helps one take the measure of a place.  I most recently set foot in the Cleveland and Denver public libraries. Cleveland retains its grand and aspirational 1925 beaux arts building, but added the forbidding and fortress-like Louis Stokes Wing in 1997. The Batman bibliothèque:


Denver replaced its mid-1950s building (itself replacing a 1909 Carnegie Greek temple) with a 1995 Michael Graves postmodernism:

Sierra Exif JPEG

Whimsy on such a grand scale made me feel very small indeed, like a shrinking Alice.  And it was good to make a virtual visit to the 1874 Cincinnati Public Library on Vine Street between Sixth and Seventh, courtesy of a recent post by Nemo. Even if he did somewhat unkindly call it an “elegant” if “outmoded filing cabinet.”

When next in McAllen, Texas, the second-largest city before the debouchment of the Rio Grande into the Gulf of Mexico, I will certainly visit the abandoned Walmart that was converted into what claims to be, at 123,000 square feet, the largest one-floor library (“One floor, a million stories!”) in the nation:


The average Walmart Super Center  these days measures in at just under 200,000 sq feet. An exemplary transformation for that space. Good Walmarts, when they die, go to the library.

Not that I am sniffy about mercantile places.

2011-02-05 13.11.11

-Mel Nezzo

Published in: on August 27, 2013 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Weekend Reading: The Broken Shore

brkshoreOur colleague the Art Maven gave us her slightly used copy of Peter Temple’s Australian crime novel The Broken Shore a few weeks ago with her recommendation.  Our late friend the Brooklyn Novelist told us years ago that we should read anything Australian because they were writing the pants off everyone else.  This was indeed a good one, preferable, we think, to the onslaught of bleak Scandinavians everyone’s so crazy about.  What we only just now connected is that Temple wrote the Jack Irish books that have turned out to make such good television.

Embarrassing footnote:  not a single Temple in the ML collection.  Have to fix that.

-Nemo Wolfe



Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 10:39 am  Comments (1)  

The Mercantile is on Goodreads


The Mercantile Library now has a community on Goodreads.  It’s open to everyone.  Sign up and start discussing.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Weeklong Reading: The Power Broker


The Wolfe pack gathered by the shore of a nearby Great Lake last week.  Our beach reading was The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s epic take on New York’s late Park, Roads, and Housing Czar Robert Moses.  We could not put it down.  And not just because it weighed even more than The Sleepwalkers, requiring serious effort to get it back up to reading distance.  It is a riveting story told by the one writer capable of finding every last rivet needed to get the man pinned to the page.  (Caro will be here on 11/2 for the Niehoff Lecture).

We can’t decide whether we’re more disgusted with Moses or with the New York City press who failed to see him for what he was until it was much too late.

-Nemo Wolfe

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 9:36 am  Comments (2)  

Asocial Media


A study reported in the latest issue of The Economist magazine found that using Facebook made people more miserable.  The study was small (n = 82) and limited to volunteers in their late teens and early 20’s.  Still, it’s consistent with a larger study finding the most common emotion aroused by Facebook use is envy.

That’s not true for my use, of course, since all of my close  kin and acquaintances are more attractive and adorable than my Facebook friends’, and all my travels are more interesting and exotic.  And, of course, our place in Emilia Romagna – what can I say?  The pictures, though spectacular, just can’t do it justice.

One FB practice that may drive inevitable envy is posting pictures of meals about to be eaten.  It’s invidious.  Yes, they look delicious – but only the poster gets to eat them.   Is this the modern equivalent to hunting photos?  Think Teddy Roosevelt standing next to a bear, elephant, water buffalo, etc., etc.  “I bagged this.  You didn’t.”  Regulation to moderate the Facebook food practice seems to be in order.  California and the EU should be amenable.

There is, naturally, no study showing use of any Merc offering correlating to anything but bliss.

-Alfred E. Numen

Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 9:16 am  Comments (2)  

One Shakespeare company in its time imparts many plays

This year, the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, our Canon Club partners, will become one of only five theaters in the US to have put on all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays.  That’s a big deal.

One thing people – especially non-native residents – often say about our city is that we don’t know how good we have it, culture-wise.  The fact that too few Cincinnatians know that we have a world-class Shakespeare company in our midst is  great example.

Spread the word.  And maybe go see one of the free Shakespeare in the Park performances.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Colum on Colbert


Colum McCann was on the Colbert Report last week, no doubt practicing for his appearance at the Mercantile on September 17.

As they say in The Business, he killed.  I’m not sure Stephen read the book, though.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  

“…publishing is fascinating—at least, to those of us who are in it.”


Robert Gottlieb’s review of Boris Kachka’s Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House doubles as a fascinating history of Farrar Straus & Giroux, and a profile of FSG capo Roger Straus.  Gottlieb finds plenty to criticize about Kachka’s book (“three hundred and forty-five pages of [Kachka’s overexcited tone] is hard to take”), yet this review really makes one want to read it.  Or rather, it makes one want to read Gottlieb’s non-existent memoir about the NYC publishing scene of the ’50s and ’60s.

Some would describe Gottlieb’s review as long but good.  At the Mercantile, we say it’s long AND good.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on August 13, 2013 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Former St. Louis Mercantile Director Gets Drunk, Pens Camping Manual, Ends Up in Ken Burns Documentary


It’s a great time of year to hit the woods, or, if the woods are too muggy, to read about the outdoors.

Horace Kephart was a brilliant scholar and came from pioneer stock.  He loved the outdoors and, at 28, became director of St. Louis’s prestigious Mercantile Library.  But when his marriage fell apart, he turned to booze, and lost his job.  Naturally–no pun intended–he turned to the wilderness to start over.   He moved to a cabin in the woods and went on to write a still-relevant wilderness manual, Camping and Woodcraft. This is exactly the book you’ll need on your iPad when civilization collapses. He also crusaded for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

-ed scripsi

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Colum McCann made the Man Booker Longlist


We’re a little late in reporting this, but Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic made the longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize (as you probably surmised from the no-nonsense title of this post).

He’ll be at the Mercantile on September 17th.  Buy your tickets here.

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment