Book Notes | The Personal Librarian
This historical fiction book written by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray narrates the compelling story of archivist and librarian Belle da Costa Greene, who developed the Pierpont Morgan Library, now the Morgan Library & Museum, in Manhattan during the early 20th century.
Belle had a secret: her mother changed Belle’s name from Belle Marion Greener to Belle da Costa Green and concealed their Black heritage to protect her from discrimination. This alienated Belle’s father, Richard Theodore Greener, the first Black American to graduate from Harvard (1870), who was an activist for racial justice and dean of Howard University.
Belle's relationship with J.P. Morgan was complicated. He was a curmudgeon with a temper. She was constantly on guard to keep anyone from discovering her cultural roots. Belle did not have a physical relationship with Morgan, but they were deeply connected through their love of books. Despite his level of entitlement, she found a way to work with him, to develop his archives into a world-class collection, and to keep secret her whole professional life that she was African American.
The Personal Librarian went beyond describing Belle’s position as personal librarian and how she developed a talent for locating and purchasing many important manuscripts. In the second half of the book, we learn of her interactions with New York feminists and her love affair with Bernard Berenson, a renowned American art historian and author who had an “open marriage” with his wife. Bella stepped into the world of the arts with flair, learned to flirt, and outcompeted others in auctions and sales of ancient books and manuscripts as she built the library.
Our book group discussion was rich and lively. Members really liked the book, though a couple felt the writing was “stiff.” We agreed Belle's story was the most compelling thread, and that as whites we have no clue what people of color went through back then and even now. One member, who said she usually does not like historical fiction, found it “readable and likeable.” Another recommended other works by Marie Benedict: The Only Woman in the Room, about Hedy Lamarr, the film actress and scientist, and The Other Einstein, about Einstein’s first wife, whose research he took and published as his own. One recommended the movie Passing, about a woman who passes as white in the 1920s, even concealing her heritage from her husband.
I recommend reading The Personal Librarian authors' notes that describe their sources for Belle's story.
— Judy Helgen, UMRA Book Club I member
Book Club I to meet September 16
Fri, Sep 16 2022, 2pm
Judy Helgen will lead the discussion of The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray when the UMRA Book Club I meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, September 16.
Email Pat Tollefson for more information, including suggestions for starting a new book club.
We will meet at the Mel-O-Glaze bakery on 28th and Minnehaha Parkway and walk to Minnehaha Falls and then back again.
Some of the most valuable and rare maps in the world are held in UMN's own James Ford Bell Library, housed in Andersen Library See https://www.lib.umn.edu/collections/special/bell .
The first meeting of UMRA’s Family History Interest Group for 2023–24 will feature a presentation by Marilyn DeLong about sharing family stories and learning surprising family connections.
UMRA has a special opportunity to engage with the four newest members of the U of M Board of Regents on Wednesday, October 4, via Zoom. The purpose of the event is to share our perspectives as former University employees.
All UMRA members with an interest in photography are welcome to attend the meeting of the UMRA Photo Club on Tuesday, October 10. We welcome photographers of all abilities. Most of us are struggling amateurs. We laugh a lot and learn from sharing and talking about our pictures.
The walk along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis is always changing, with many attractions being added along both sides of the river and, now, the beautiful fall colors.
UMRA’s workshop on Open Enrollment for U of M retiree health plans for 2024 will include a briefing on the choice between Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) plans, by Jeff Snegosky of BCBS of Minnesota, followed by an overview of the U of M’s retiree health insurance plans, by Katie Kolodge from the Office of Human Resources.
Mary Jane Towle will lead the discussion of The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.
To help us understand the growing movement in the U.S. to ban books, especially children’s literature, and the critical role of libraries to protect intellectual freedom, UMRA will welcome U of M Librarian Lisa Von Drasek (pictured) and Rochester Public Librarian Kimberly Edson as the guest speakers for our October luncheon forum at Midland Hills.
The Fourth Friday Book Club will meet from 2 to 3:30 p.m. CDT on October 27 to discuss the life and narrative of Frederick Douglass.
Join us for a 5 mile moderately paced hike around Pleasant Lake located in the heart of North Oaks. It takes us past some of James J. Hill’s original farm buildings as well as beautiful homes built along the lakeshore. The trail is wide, generally flat and consists of packed dirt and crushed rock.
The documents noted for this event specify your managers and can minimize income taxes now, and estate taxes.
The material world we live in is shaped by design. While popular discussions of design typically focus on fashion and furniture, design is fundamental in art, architecture, and indeed nearly all aspects of the everyday world around us. Goldstein Museum of Design curator Jean McElvain will demonstrate and discuss some of the fascinating and often unexpected holdings before we walk through the current gallery exhibit.
Get an insider's perspective on Santa Fe and Taos alongside local artists, exploring the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, enjoying traditional music and learning about native cultures. The deadline for reserving a space is June 2, 2023.
Please join us for an invigorating hike from The Monument located at the intersection of Mississippi RIver Blvd and Summit Avenue in St. Paul to Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis and back. This hike is on paved trails, approximately 5.5 miles in length, and will be at a pace suitable to the weather.