Excerpt from The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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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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    Jun 2021, 352 pages


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Finally, he pushes the door open to reveal the glass cases holding the precious collection of rare books. There are only about one hundred and fifty printed books of Virgil's poetry in existence. These volumes were all printed in the fifteenth century. Most of them have been donated by Junius.

I've seen these books only a few times before, while in the company of the restoration team. This is a holy moment.

Mr. Morgan's voice worms its way into the sanctity of my thoughts. "Would you care to hold my favorite?"

Junius is carrying the Sweynheym and Pannartz copy of Virgil, the rarest of all the books. German clerics Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz were two of the first users of the printing press in the fifteenth century, and the book he's proffering is one of their press's very first editions.

"May I?" I ask, incredulous at this opportunity.

"Of course." His eyes are bright behind his spectacles. I suspect it's a thrill for him to share his prize with one who cares equally about it.

I slide the proffered white gloves onto my hands. The book is heavier than I expected. I sit before its open pages. How Papa would have relished this moment. I think of my father, who introduced me to the rarefied world of art and manuscripts when I was only a girl.

One day, the beauty of your mind and the beauty of art will be as one, Papa had said once.

The memory of Papa's words makes me smile as I turn the yellowed pages. I examine the hand-detailed letter T that marks the beginning of a page, marveling at the luster of its gold leaf. I am oblivious to Junius's presence near me until he begins talking.

"I saw my uncle last evening."

Junius doesn't need to identify who his uncle is. Everyone at the library knows he is the nephew of the infamous financier J. P. Morgan, which is exactly why I never mention him. I want Junius to understand that I appreciate him for his erudition alone.

"Ah?" I answer politely, never moving my eyes from the page.

"Yes, at the Grolier Club."

I know the club he speaks of, by reputation anyway. Founded about twenty years ago, in 1884, the private club consists of moneyed bibliophiles whose main aim is to promote the scholarship and collection of books. I would adore a peek behind the closed doors of its Romanesque townhouse on East Thirty-Second Street. But as a woman, I'd never be admitted, and to those men, my gender would not be my only sin.

"Were you attending an interesting lecture?" I attempt to continue making small talk.

"Actually, Miss Greene, it wasn't the lecture that was interesting." Junius's tone contains a quality unusual for him, bordering on playful.

Curious, I turn away from the Virgil. Junius's placid face, always pleasant but always serious, has cracked open wide with a smile. It is a bit disconcerting, and as I lean away a little, I wonder what on earth is going on.

"No?" I ask. "The lecture wasn't good?"

"The lecture was fine, but the most fascinating discussion of the evening was with my uncle about his personal art and manuscript collection. I advise him about it from time to time, as well as the new library he's constructing for it right next door to his home in New York City."

"Oh, yes," I say with a small nod. "Is he considering an intriguing new acquisition?"

Junius pauses for a moment before he answers. "In a manner of speaking, I suppose he is in search of a new acquisition," he says with a knowing chuckle. "I have recommended that he interview you for his newly created post of personal librarian."

Excerpted from The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Copyright © 2021 by Marie Benedict. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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