Read advance reader review of The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, page 8 of 11

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The Personal Librarian

by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray X
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 352 pages

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  • Theresa P. (Arkport, NY)
    The Personal Librarian is and was a winner!
    Marie Benedict and Victoria Murray have provided a compelling tale of JP Morgan's personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. Benedict's novels have all won my admiration, but I commend her for working on this with Murray.
    The story flows from Belle, whose most difficult task is to always appear as something she is not. It was a compelling read, beautifully crafted by the authors, who made sure her image and her reality both came through for the reader.
    Belle was an incredible woman, doing a magnificent job of building an extensive private collection at Morgan's behest. Morgan demanded her devotion to his library, but often to him as well. Her success was all the more magnificent in that she was female, single, raised in a poor family while working with the richest in society, and hiding a secret--her race. Her failure to comport herself in a manner acceptable to Morgan would have cost her position. Discovery of her secret in any of her social interactions would also have consequences. Belle's vibrant personality sometimes made those steps a challenge.
    Belle managed to become one of the most admired women of her time, all the while having to play the part that kept her employed and successful. I would nervously turn pages when I was afraid she had made a mistake she might not survive, and happily turn pages when I was cheering her progress.
    A magnificent read!
  • Ruth C. (Charlotte, NC)
    Experiencing life through Belle's narrative challenges what we think and want to believe…
    You know that feeling you have after finishing a remarkable book. I last experienced that emotional high upon completing The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Now, gratefully again, when I closed the ARC of The Personal Librarian, I felt the same rush of excitement, treasuring the book I just read while wishing for more.

    Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray collaborate on this fictional tale of Belle da Costa Greene, the young woman who became J. P. Morgan's personal librarian, in charge of his Pierpont Morgan Library.

    This book is a compelling reading experience for a couple of reasons. First, the quality of the writing is seductive. You feel part of Belle's journey on every page, sharing her fear, joy, the pride of accomplishment, and walking the tightrope of a light-skinned black woman assuming the life of a white woman. Second, the historical detail, which includes references to the library's growing collection and the suffragette movement, is fascinating, deftly woven into the narrative. Third, the portrayal of Belle describes her as a courageous young woman determined to use her knowledge, skills, and talent to become who she wants to be. The authors are very skillful storytellers, as this novel demonstrates.

    Finally, this book's last section is a historical note that speaks to what literary license may have been exercised while writing this account, along with personal statements from Marie and Victoria. The inclusion of this material and what is shared only underlines how unique this project has been.

    As I said, The Personal Librarian is a remarkable book. The comfortable writing pulls you through the story. And the experiences that are shared – powerful, enlightening, and educational. Nothing compares to seeing life from another's perspective, but the life we feel from Belle's perspective provokes considerable thought.
  • Sherilyn R. (St George, UT)
    The Personal Librarian
    This is the little known story of Bella da Costa Green and her life as personal librarian to J.P. Morgan. The story provides a fascinating look at the process of building and collecting a library of rare books, manuscripts and art. But, it is also the story of a beautiful, intelligent and witty black woman, living as white, pursuing a career in the affluent New York society of the gilded age.

    Bella had to go to extraordinary lengths to protect her family, her secrets and Morgan's legacy while living as authentic a life as possible.

    I loved this book and the manner in which the authors provides a glimpse into the life and times of both celebrities and common people of the day.

    Reading this book against the backdrop of violence and racism expressed during the summer of 2020 made Bella's life and efforts even more compelling.

    I would certainly recommend this book to a wide-range of readers, especially those who love historical fiction, art and above all books.
  • Joan V. (Miller Place, NY)
    Living a Lie
    Belle de Costa Green started life as Maude Greene; her mother changed the family's name after leaving her husband and moving to New York City. She foresaw the Jim Crow era as the post-Civil War era was beginning to change in the South. She felt the only way her light skinned children could succeed was for them to pass for white. "To be colored in America is a burden that I don't want them to have to shoulder." This was especially painful since her husband was an early civil rights author and activist.

    And succeed they did. Three of the daughters became teachers, her son was an engineer and Belle became one of the most successful and famous working women of her time. She was the chief wage earner in the family.

    The Gilded Age in America is a fascinating period and JP Morgan was one of the most important and influential men of his day. He single handily rescued the US Treasury Department; his wealth was staggering.

    Belle started out working at the Princeton library and through Morgan's nephew secured the job of being Morgan's private librarian. The way she procured rare manuscripts for the library and pushed after Morgan's death to make sure it's contents were made available is a fascinating story.

    However, the best part of the book for me was how she kept her race a secret. There were times when it was like reading a thriller; if her secret had been found out Belle's whole family would have been in jeopardy. She had to keep a constant vigil and be careful with all her personal relationships. New York's elite upper class of Vanderbilts, Astors and the like never would have accepted her.

    It was also very poignant to see her feelings. She did not want to be white and was never happy denying her race. The writers manage to portray her emotional conflicts in a very passionate way.

    There is so much to discuss in this book: art, history, fashion and especially race which is a timely subject. Although the book has two authors it is seamless and the two write with one clear voice.

    I strongly suggest reading this book, it is fascinating historical fiction.
  • Barbara P. (Mountain Center, CA)
    So much I didn't know
    I had never heard of Belle de Costa Greene. I knew of the JP Morgan Library, but I had no idea of the woman behind library or her fascinating story. It is so appropriately a book for our time - spanning the time from the Civil War to the 1940's, as they enveloped the story of Belle's parents and how she came to live the secret life she chose. I enjoyed this book and recommend to everyone who loves art and literature, as well as social challenges and changes.
  • Erica M. (Chicago, IL)
    Secrets can color our lives
    As someone who has lived with a family secret for almost 40 years, Belle's hiding the fact that she was fair enough to pass as white, despite the fact that she was "colored" resonated with me. I felt that the characters were well-drawn, but thought that the book moved very slowly from major issue to major issue without sufficient build-up to propel the story forward. There were times I felt as though I was continuing the work because I had committed to writing a review. In the end, I felt it was worth the effort, I just wished an editor had pared it down a bit.
  • Ashleigh P. (Springfield, VA)
    the historical fiction we need more of today
    A slightly fictionalized historical account of the fascinating and scandalous life of Marion Greener who, in order to contribute her expansive knowledge and talent of literature and art had to live a false life - passing as white during a time in American history where her true self was denied based on race alone. Serving as JP Morgan's personal librarian, confidant and friend, Belle da Costa Greene's story shows the struggles that American BIPOC had to endure. The story is well-written, researched and paced. Stories like these are the hidden threads of history that weave together the truth of our past as a nation and it is so important they are shared.

Beyond the Book:
  Belle da Costa Greene

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