Loving Libraries

Three tributes to the power of libraries and the books they hold."James’ reading was a thing apart, an emanation of his in-most self, unaffected by fashion, or elocutionary artifice. He read from his soul, and no one who never heard him read poetry knows what that soul was."
- Edith Wharton, “A Backward Glance: Henry James”
Three tributes to the power of libraries and the books they hold.

In honor of the return of Edith Wharton’s personal library collection to the Mount, her home in the Berkshires in Lenox, Mass., we crafted a special program — read at the Mount — featuring stories about the power of libraries to alter lives and draw out surprising aspects of ourselves. A short interview with Stephanie Copeland, President of the Mount, is included in the program.

The first story on the program is by the Italian master Italo Calvino (1923-1985), “A General in the Library,” in which a team of military men sent into the national library of a fictive town to weed out subversive literature find themselves disarmed. Calvino’s varied career included considerable political activism, as well as the publication of many books of fiction and essays. Among his best known works are Difficult Loves, Invisible Cities and If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. The reader is SHORTS host Isaiah Sheffer.

Our second story in an unexpectedly lyrical and literal piece from science fiction master Ray Bradbury. “Exchange” documents a twilight encounter between an overworked librarian and a lonely soldier, returning to the one place that gave him pleasure as a child. As host Sheffer notes in his introduction to the story, “this is your dream librarian — the one who remembers all your old books.” Bradbury’s many works include The Martian Chronicles, Illustrated Man and Dandelion Wine.

Bradbury’s unnerving story “The Veldt,” was part of an earlier SELECTED SHORTS season. “Exchange” is read by Rochelle Oliver, whose long career in film and television include roles in Next Stop Greenwich Village and Scent of a Woman, as well as appearances on Law and Order and All My Children. She and husband Fritz Weaver are among SELECTED SHORTS cadre of “regulars.”

The final work on this program is not a story, but a memoir: Wharton herself recalling her phenomenal friend Henry James, whose impassioned readings (of works by Walt Whitman and Emily Bronte, among others) used to entrance her in the very library to which her books have returned. “Backward Glance: Henry James,” is read by Brenda Wehle, star of David Hare’s Stuff Happens. Her many television appearances include roles on Law and Order, Crossing Jordan and Boston Legal.

“A General in the Library,” by Italo Calvino, read by Isaiah Sheffer
“Exchange,” by Ray Bradbury, read by Rochelle Oliver
“A Backward Glance: Henry James,” by Edith Wharton, read by Brenda Wehle For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit Symphony Space