Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, Vice Provost for University Libraries hosts our virtual book club exclusively for Loyal Blues.
You’ll have the opportunity to connect with alumni and friends, all while having an expert educator guide you through several books annually.
Named one of the best books of 2021 by The Washington Post, this New York Times Best Seller, The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, one of the most prominent librarians in American history.
An extraordinary woman, Greene ran the Morgan Library for 43 years and not only did she build one of the most important collections of rare books and manuscripts in the United States, but she also transformed an exclusive private collection into a major public resource that continues to this day.
Greene was famous for her intellect and wit, and she went to great lengths to preserve her carefully curated public identity, passing as white in a deeply segregated and racist society.
I look forward to delving into the history of the Morgan Library and the story of Belle da Costa Greene with you.
There is no cost to participate. Simply purchase a copy of the book and sign up below to receive emails. This title is available as an audiobook, though a variety of vendors as an eBook, and also through the Public Library through Overdrive. If you have trouble finding a copy, just let us know.
Once you've signed up, you will receive weekly emails to guide you through the reading period, which will run from March 29 until May 5. You can also join our Facebook Forum to discuss the book and post questions.
We're also delighted to share that the book club will be joined by Jesse Erickson, PhD, MLIS, Astor Curator and Department Head, Printed Books and Bindings for the Morgan Library & Museum. Our virtual discussion will be on Thursday, May 5 at 5:30pm.
Jesse R. Erickson is the Astor Curator of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library & Museum. Along with Sarah Werner, he is co-editor of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. He worked previously in a joint appointment as Coordinator of Special Collections and Digital Humanities and Assistant Professor in the Department of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Delaware. He served as the Vice President for Programs for the American Printing History Association from 2017 to 2019 and has served on the editorial boards of the University of Delaware Press and Birmingham City University Centre for Printing History and Culture’s journal, Publishing History. His research specializations are in ethnobibliography, alternative printing, non-canonical textuality, Black print culture, and the transnational publishing history of the works of Ouida.
1. In some ways, Belle’s parents had somewhat unique experiences or backgrounds for people of color during this time period. How might those histories have impacted Belle, even when she had not been told the details of her parents’ pasts?
2. As we are introduced to the main characters, what are your initial impressions of Belle de Costa Green? How do you think she is able to exude such confidence?
3. Consider Mama's warning of "if you see colored people, stand tall, don't make eye contact. If eye contact is made, only acknowledge with a nod and then turn away" In chapter 53 she is acknowledged by a woman of color. Why do you think Belle's mother issues this warning? How do you feel about Belle's interpretation of that interaction?
1. Consider Belle’s relationship with her mother. How has their relationship changed over the course of the book so far? Do you think Belle resented her mother and the sacrifices she had to make by choosing to follow her mother's set path?
2. Why do you think Belle is more comfortable standing out then blending in? What enabled her to have that sort of freedom? Is it really freedom?
3. Do you think J. P. Morgan heard the rumors and choose to ignore them or do you think he was unaware? What about the rumors concerning his daughter Anne?
2. How do you feel about the portrayal of Belle's other relationships - with J.P. Morgan, Bernard Berenson, or even her friends both inside and outside the art world. How was Belle limited by maintaining her secret?
3. Consider Belle's relationship with Morgan's youngest daughter, Anne. Why do you think Anne has so much distain for Belle? What does their interactions tell us about secrets in their world?
1. Were you surprised by Belle's life and her rise to such breathtaking heights? Did it change any of your preconceptions of the time period? What sort of outside influences do you think contributed to her ascent?
2. How would you describe the attraction between Belle and Bernard Berenson? What were the attributes that drew them together and, ultimately, forced them apart? How did you feel about their relationship - and Belle’s options for a partner and family of her own?
3. Why do you think there was such a dramatic change in the relationship between JP Morgan and Belle? Why do you think he kept her in his will despite his threats?
2. Before reading this book, were you familiar with the Civil Rights Act of 1875 or the efforts toward equality that occurred during Reconstruction? What might have happened in the United States in the decades that followed if the Civil Rights Act of 1875 --- along with the many efforts at equality that occurred during Reconstruction --- had not been overturned?
3. In the end, do you think Belle was happy with her choices and decisions? Do you think she would have done anything differently?
Have a book that you think might be interesting for the book club to read? Drop us a note and we'll add it to our list of recommendations.