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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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There are currently 81 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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Gabi

A Fascinating Life Story
A fascinating story of the life of Belle da Costa Greene (née Belle Marion Greener), J P Morgan’s trusted personal librarian, partner-in-art, and confidant. The book follows Belle as she, a colored woman passing as white, learns to navigate among a male-dominated art world and mingle with high society across continents as an influential representative of J P Morgan (and later his son) and his John Pierpont Morgan Library. While her path brought Belle professional success, influence, acclaim and rewards, it didn’t come without high risks, personal sacrifices, the burden of familial responsibilities and loneliness as told in this compelling novel.

“I wonder sometimes if the sacrifice I made to have this success is worth it.” (Belle in a conversation with her father)

As a side note - this book will be an excellent read for book clubs! There are many potential topics for engaging discussion.
Dorinne D

Another Winner from Marie Benedict
Another winning historical novel by Marie Benedict, this one takes place beginning in the early 1900's when Belle da Costa Greene is hired by wealthy financier J.P. Morgan to catalog, organize and assist in the acquisition of rare books and manuscripts for his personal library. With the Morgan fortune at her disposal, Belle becomes a very shrewd and successful negotiator in procuring the most sought-after items for the library. I found the book to be particularly interesting in the descriptions of the sumptuousness of the library, the fashions of the time, the paintings and other artifacts owned by the Morgans and their friends, and the preciousness of the manuscripts and tomes sought for the collection. Propelling the story throughout were Belle's secret and the tragedy of her romantic life. Truly a novel not to be missed. I had the pleasure of reading this as an “Advance Reader Copy” from BookBrowse; it will be on sale to the public on June 1, 2021.
Robin M. (Newark, DE)

Feels like a biography
Is it historical fiction? Is it a biography? I'm not quite sure, but I enjoyed this book very much. The authors were careful in their research and created lively and interesting characters, well-described settings and wardrobes and some very intense plot twists. The complexities of "passing" and the risks of doing this in the early 1900s are very apparent in the book and, sadly, remain relevant today.

I will be recommending this to my Fact & Fiction book club because I enjoyed reading it, it is a well-written book, and because it blurs the lines between fact and fiction.
Carole C. (Newtown Square, PA)

Another Great Story!
Marie Benedict writes fantastic historical fiction novels and she's written another one with THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN. I haven't read anything by Victoria Christopher Murray, but definitely will after this book. This was a wonderful collaboration about a woman named Belle da Costa Greene who was the librarian and curator for J. P. Morgan's library of rare books and manuscripts. She tells the story of how she gains respect in the auction world, which is male dominated with her knowledge of rare books as well as her business sense. The struggle she has is she's a light skinned African American woman trying to pass for a caucasian woman. She does this because that is the only way she could get a job like this one. She's worried her secret will be discovered and she won't be able to help provide for her family. Her struggle with denying her true identity is very thought provoking throughout the book. I found her story to be very interesting and it kept me wanting to read about her. We need to learn more about amazing women like Belle who was an important part of history, but no one ever knew her story.
Virginia Lee B. (Cedar Rapids, IA)

Fascinating Strong Woman
Thanks to BookBrowse and Net Galley for the ARC of this book. It is the story of a young woman who works as the main librarian, curator and collector for J P Morgan as he builds his rare book collection. She becomes well known and well respected within the world of collectors. She is biracial and makes the decision to pass as white. I think because of that and from being a female in a male world, it makes it easier for her to take risks to show her competence and personality to others. I am always leery of historical fiction, and how many liberties the author may take. I am thrilled to say that my research showed that this remarkable story is very close to the truth. Very readable and extremely well written.
Karen L. (Wilton, IA)

Excellent Historical Fiction. Loved it!
History comes alive in this book. I have read Marie Benedict before. She is very good at bringing historical women to life. I am not familiar with her co author but the book is excellent. The book is excellent for book clubs and people interested in African American and civil rights issues. I felt so bad for Belle - I feel like she gave up a personal life and happiness for her professional advancement. She did not have good work life balance. I believe it was unfair that she could not have both. She could not have both because she was a African American woman. I thought Bernard was a cowardly man who was unworthy of her. My heart broke for her when she had the abortion with no support from him. He was unworthy of her love and trust. Her mother tried to give her a good life but in the process expected too much of her and separated her from her father. Her professional life soared to the heights but her personal life was often in a valley.
Laura O. (Los Angeles, CA)

Fascinating and challenging
This is a wonderful book that brought a topic to me that I'd never seen discussed before in a novel, passing for white in America of the early 20th century. The book is very easy to read but challenges the reader at the same time. The characters are engaging and complex, the solutions aren't simple. It was absolutely delightful!
Linda J. (Urbana, OH)

Well, I Never...
...heard of Belle Marion Greener. The daughter of Richard Greener who was the first African-American graduate of Harvard (class of 1870) and spent his life fighting for civil rights along side W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass
I also never heard of Belle da Costa Greene who worked as J. P. Morgan's Personal Librarian and helped him manage his library and art collection into a pre-eminent for manuscripts and classics. Her mother was Genevieve Greener who decided to drop the final "R" in her last name and allow her light-skinned children to pass so they would get the opportunities they deserved and would not be able to get.
I was on the edge of my seat so often during my reading of this book - waiting for the boom to drop.

Bella lived a charmed life being able to take advantage of so much that working for Morgan allowed her.

I only have one question after reading this delicious book. When was Bella's secret revealed?

Beyond the Book:
  Belle da Costa Greene

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