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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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  • Published:
    Jun 29, 2021, 352 pages


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There are currently 79 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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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.
Martha P. (Issaquah, WA)

"Shhh!" Not this librarian.
Being a former librarian myself there was no other book on the review list that I would have chosen. Belle da Costa Greene was the personal librarian to J.P. Morgan at the Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC in the early 1900s. She was in charge of acquisitions and the cataloging of rare art and manuscripts to build the Morgan into a world class library. Her close relationship with the famous financier was all the more amazing due to the fact she was a fair-skinned black woman who passed as white. This secret and the fear of exposure played into every aspect of her life. She became famous in New York society and the world of art dealers. Her accomplishments as a woman of that era were exceptional. I was pleased to see that the author collaborated with a black author which made it more legitimate for me. The writing is a bit ordinary but the story saved it for me.
Marybeth T. (Bellingham, WA)

Such an interesting read
So happy that I was able to read this. What could be better then a book about a rich mans private library? Getting to read the book from the personal librarians point of view.

Marie Benedict does such a good job at time period and all the secrets that are happening. This book was a delight and I will be buying a hardback copy for my personal library.
Janet H. (Long Beach, CA)

A time of fabulous wealth ... and racism
This is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the young librarian who helped build J.P. Morgan's excellent collection of close-to-priceless books and great art during the early 1900's. It reflects the times of the Gilded Age, the Great Depression and WW l. One of the major themes in the book is that Belle is a light complected black woman, whose mother has decided that the family will change their last name, the story of their origin and pass for white. This is a weighty burden for them. Though a little slow paced in the middle, I learned much reading this book, and recommend it as enjoyable and informative historical fiction.
Linda S. (Tucker, GA)

A Little Mystery, A Lot of Books: Perfect for Bibliophiles!
An easy and enjoyable read, "The Personal Librarian" by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who becomes the librarian largely given credit for amassing J. P. Morgan's fabulous collection of books, rare manuscripts, and artwork for the Pierpont Morgan Library. In doing so she carved-out a powerful place for herself in the art world, all the more remarkable because Belle hides a dangerous secret. Telling the story from a first person POV and set mostly in New York City, the authors take the reader along on Belle's adventures through the restrictive mores and culture of the early part of the twentieth century as Belle describes some of the delicious artworks collected in the library.

Two minor complaints: I would have liked to learn more about the process Belle used to suss out and assess the value of those artworks; also, early in her work with Morgan, Belle seems to have a higher opinion of herself that I would have thought, given her circumstances, but both of these are minor quibbles. From the first page I knew I would enjoy Belle's story - and I did!
Karen W. (Atlanta, GA)

The Personal Librarian
This novel, based on the real person who brought the Pierpont Morgan library to prominence in the early 1900s, focuses on her racial identity. Not only did Bella DaCosta Greene deal with gender bias, she secretly lived through racial bias since she was passing as white. This book is an interesting counterpoint to The Vanishing Half, since the time and financial status are so different. The style of writing in this book reflects the restricted customs and repressed emotions, however, which makes it a slower and perhaps less exciting read. Those who enjoy glimpses into the lifestyles of the very rich and also insights into rare book collecting will still enjoy it.
Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

Historical and Relevant
Both authors of "The Personal Librarian" were new to me, but I've already added some of their other titles to my reading list. It is clear that a great deal of research went into the writing of this book. I was impressed by the level of historical detail in this work of fiction as I was by the relevance of the subject matter. Focusing on both racial and gender rights in the first half of the 20th century, the story line shows both the progress we've made and the work still ahead. I feel certain that both book clubs I'm involved in — one for women only and the other for both men and women—would be pleased with this selection.

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