Today is the last Sunday in May, so it’s my last Holly story in May. Every year, I say I won’t be writing any more, and (so far) every year I do. If I ever get the novel which spawned (if “spawn” is the word I want) the stories re-issued, I’ll also put out a collection of the Holly stories.
Yesterday’s Story A Day May prompt was to write a crowd scene (which I didn’t do), and today’s is to write about two or more people going in different directions, so I did both today. My Holly prompt was Humor only an editor could love.
Holly and the Dilemma
The Non-Fiction–Good or Evil? breakout session of the Worldwide Living Librarian Convention of the planet Llannonn was in pandemonium. Madame Chairman pounded on the desk before her with her weighted-heel shoe of office and shouted, “Order! Order!” in vain.
Then, slowly, a figure stood. She would have been bowed with the weight of years, but nothing bowed her. Her hair was pulled back with barrettes patterned with purple spikeflowers, and a purple feather boa encircled her neck and flowed in two fluffy rivers, down the front of her red tunic.
The hubbub dropped to whispers of, “Jahangiri!” and, “Council City!” and, “Main branch!” and “High Head!”
“Permission to speak,” she said, in a voice that one couldn’t say was raised, but which could quieten any room or, failing that, clear it.
Madame Chairman (Head Librarian Madame Bibi Chairman of Central City, Six Oasis Province, Orange Continent) rested her official shoe and said, with relief, “Granted.”
High Head Librarian of Green Continent Holly Jahangiri (for it was she) said, “Both sides of this,” she paused, to let her sarcasm be appreciated, “debate have good points. I’ve even heard, unless I’m mistaken, a third view. This view is the one I espouse.”
There was a breath of resentment at such a powerful figure taking a side in a disagreement, but a High Head Librarian was above reproach, so the breath subsided.
“Let me tell you a story,” Holly said, and the attendees, readers before they were librarians, snuggled into their chairs to listen.
We had not yet made a division between fiction and non-fiction. It was all alien literature, after all. The Grand Council had after some unpleasant experiences with French and Russian novels, limited the Earth literature allowable on Llannonn to that of English-speaking countries.
At the time of which I speak, we were the only Living Library in Council City, and our Living Books were few. We were still located in the one small converted private residence, with most of our female Books bunking in two large bedrooms, the males in the former den and back parlor. Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management insisted on living in a small room off the kitchen, which we allowed, once a friend from Earth assured us that Mrs. Beeton (as we called her for short) was non-fiction, and that her recipes were, indeed, edible. She was our cook for many years.
On the other hand, one of our male Books was The Red Pen Strikes. He had been donated to us by one of the Library’s most generous sponsors, who had kept him privately for many years. Living Books were, some of you may remember from Library History class, a curiosity and a status symbol, until they lost their cache, and government-funded Libraries were set up to get them off the streets.
Red (as we called him) was borrowed often by patrons who had previously borrowed Red Harvest and The Postman Always Rings Twice, but he was always returned the same day. This, coupled with the other Books’ tendency to avoid him, caused me to call him into my office for an interview. I was only Assistant Head Librarian at the time, and new at the job, but Head Librarian Devra Langsam encouraged me in showing initiative, and I felt it was called for in this case.
“Come in,” I said. “Sit down. Would you like some tea? Cake?”
He tossed his hat onto my desk, turned a chair around, sat astride it, leaned toward me, and said, “Begin with action. Get right to the point. What’s the conflict?”
Taken aback, I said, “That’s what I’ve asked you here to find out.”
“Good,” he said. “Good! Identify the key players right away. You have questions? Fine. Just don’t neglect to answer them!”
Irritated at his manner, I said, “It’s you who need to answer them. First, what is your complete legal name?”
“The Red Pen Strikes: Editing Without Pity, by Harvey Slashem. You want my birth name?”
“Not necessary. Are you organized into chapters?”
“Are they named, or only numbered?”
“Recite them for me.”
“‘Make It Bleed’, ‘Death to All Adverbs’, ‘Murder Your Darlings’, ‘Cut the Fat’–“
Queasy, I lifted a hand to stop him.
“Good gracious, man, what are you saying? What are you about?“
He looked at me as if I were missing a few pages at the climax. “Editing. Editing books.”
“Editing … books? Making books bleed? Killing … murdering … cutting … parts of books?”
“For their own good,” he said, as if that would reassure me.
“Thank you,” I said. “That will be all, at present.”
“‘At present,’ eh?” he said, rising with a grin and retrieving his hat. “Leave ’em wanting more.” He shook a finger at me. “Fulfill that promise!”
A quick conference with Head Librarian Devra Langsam did lead to a fulfillment of that promise, and The Red Pen Strikes was given a choice of dismissal or solitary (temporarily solitary, we were certain) residence in the Council City University library, where he would be the only Living Book at that time. He chose the latter.
“So,” Holly said, returning to the present, “my position is to allow fiction and non-fiction in the same establishment, even let them co-mingle, but do so with the utmost caution. My motto is Read before acquisition. You owe it to your other Books.”
As might have been predicted, Holly’s opinion carried the day, and the session ended with the accord and good will so valued in Llannonninn society as a whole, and Librarians in particular.
MY PROMPTS FOR TODAY: Humor only an editor would love, crowd scene, going in different directions