Wilkommen: The Librarian Is In, Ep 164
Welcome to The Librarian Is In, The New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next.
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Rhonda's pick this week on her Kindle Paperwhite (with Pushkin overseeing).
Happy Birthday to Patience and Fortitude, the lions that keep watch infront of our 42nd Street branch!
This week Rhonda and Frank discuss their personal reading picks.
This week Rhonda read Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson.
Frank chose the classic novel The Postman Always Rings Twiceby James Cain. (Thanks to Frank for sharing the very noir-esque photo he took of his first edition of this book!)
Our next book club episode will cover The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. We encourage everyone to get an electronic copy (or pull it off your shelf if you already have it), read along with us, and then tune in for an in-depth discussion.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
More things we talked about today:
Tell us what everybody's talking about in your world of books and libraries! Suggest Hot Topix(TM)! Send an email or voice memo to podcasts[at]nypl.org.
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[ Music ]
[Frank] Hello and welcome to "The Librarian Is In", the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture, and what to read next. I am Frank.
[Rhonda] And I'm Rhonda.
[Frank] And here we are. Welcome. Welcome and we have a new welcome.
[Rhonda] Musical theater. I love it.
[Frank] You know what's that, Rhon?
[Rhonda] Oh, of course.
[Rhonda] That's from -- OK, why is the name slipping from me right now?
[Frank] You don't know.
[Rhonda] No, I do know. OK. Give me a second. All right.
[Frank] Welcome and we have a new world.
[Rhonda] I know because it's Liza Minnelli in the film --
[Frank] In cabaret.
[Rhonda] -- in "Cabaret".
[Rhonda] It was like right on the tip of my tongue.
[Frank] I know. Well, you said Liza Minnelli, so.
[Rhonda] So Liza Minnelli, that's [inaudible] know.
[Frank] I think I'm going to keep you guessing in this podcast. I want to --
[Rhonda] My musical knowledge is not so bad
[Frank] You know, your knowledge is very wide ranging, I've discovered. But a lot of the references I make or you -- not that I'm so smart, but like you seem to get a lot from a lot of different sources. So, I'm not worried about you.
[Rhonda] Well, thank you. I'm Renaissance woman in terms of my knowledge.
[Frank] Oh. You and me both, kid.
[Rhonda] Right? Love a little bit of everything
[Frank] Renaissance knowledge. Because I was thinking the other day like when I used to do the guessing game with guests and I missed that. So I think I might read --
[Rhonda] Oh, the books.
[Frank] -- read you a passage from the book I read and see if you can figure out where it's from. But I guess this is a free for all about what we've been up to and what we've been reading, and what we've been watching, and what we've been listening to, and all sorts of thing, so.
[Frank] Do you want me to launch it or do you feel like --
[Rhonda] Why don't you launch in?
[Frank] You're right.
[Rhonda] I'm excited to hear what you've been doing, Frank.
[Frank] You know, I mean, I know it's slightly scandalous but, you know, I'm -- especially in this time right now and especially with the wealth of resources that the New York Public Library has. And maybe I shouldn't say this and they get edited out or whatever, but I just sort of don't want to read a book online or on a device or whatever. I just don't want to.
[Frank] I just don't like it as much. The experience, like the experience of reading is very important to me and it's the idea of being with a book and that there's sort of no other electricity or eyes or ads or anything involved makes me happy. So anyway, I know that could limit me because, you know, we're all home a lot.
[Frank] And I did take out a bunch of library books before I left.
[Frank] I went poking around and I was just like I don't -- I couldn't really land again the concentration thing, you know, sometimes concentration comes fairly well. And I'm reading happily and joyfully and other times it's not as there as I'd like it to be. So I was just poking around the books in my house -- my house, my tiny apartment, and seeing what I could find. And I did come upon something that was very exciting like, even in your own living spaces, there could be a book hiding in a corner that you remembered but didn't quite have it in the forefront of your consciousness. So I did pull out this book that made me very excited. I wonder if I should -- Let me see. And I read the first page and then that was launched into it. It was sort of just the book I wanted at that moment, which is another thing I love. So --
[Rhonda] Was this something you've read before or you just had it in your home or you had never gotten around to it?
[Frank] Well, actually, that's a great question. The book I did not read it but I did remember I read when I was a kid the first couple of pages. This book starts off hard and fast. And I read the first couple pages and there's a passage I never forgot. But I apparently must have closed the book at that passage and not went back to it maybe because it was too much or maybe it was just too strange because I was like 11 maybe. But actually, let me read you the passage.
[Frank] And see if you might figure out what genre, where, what it is. It's a little intense. And let's see. And actually, the guy's name -- This is a key. The man's name in the book is Frank.
[Frank] Interestingly enough. So when I say the name you might be, like wait, what? Is Frank in this book? But OK. So, is the door locked, Frank? I must have locked it. She looked at me and got pale. She went to the swinging door and peek through. Then she went into the lunchroom. But in a minute, she was back. They went away. I don't know why I locked it. I forgot to unlock it. She started for the lunchroom but I stopped her. Let's leave it unlocked. Nobody can get in if it's locked. I got some cooking to do. I'll wash up this plate. I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers. Bite me. Bite me. I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt in my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs. Woohoo!
[Rhonda] It's done.
[Rhonda] So I don't know the book but --
[Rhonda] -- it got me like kind of one of those like detectives who are tight.
[Rhonda] So it's a way that the first person and the way he's describing her, I kind of feel like it might be one of those like, you know, 1950s noir detective stories. Am I close?
[Frank] Rhonda, you are 100% correct Renaissance woman.
[Rhonda] Oh, yeah.
[Frank] Renaissance woman supreme. It's actually the "Postman Always Rings Twice".
[Frank] By James Cain. James Cain was an author who wrote "Postman Always Rings Twice", "Double Indemnity". He wrote "Mildred Pierce".
[Rhonda] Oh, yeah.
[Frank] All is [inaudible]. What?
[Rhonda] I've seen all those movies. Yes.
[Frank] Actually, I mean, it's interesting because when I was reading it, it was written in 1934.
[Rhonda] Oh, yes.
[Frank] Oh, the interesting thing about this -- the edition I read which we could post pictures of is it was my grandmother's book that --
[Frank] -- was in the house and me growing up and I, you know, inherited some of the books from my parents. So it's like from 1934. It's a first edition of the book. It's like the pages are brittle but it was such a pleasure turning them and the color and quality of the print and the book itself is so lovely, the smell of the book. But I had it with me all these years. And, of course, I was obsessed with books when I was a kid. And when I read the passage, I just read as a kid, I think it must have just been like too intense.
[Frank] Like what do you mean? Like she's enjoying it, they're enjoying it, but he's biting her and there's blood. I guess that was just like, huh. But when I picked it up just a couple of days ago, I was like riveted. It was sort of just what I wanted. It's like "Postman Always Rings Twice" is like you said is very hardboiled crime fiction.
[Frank] It's not a mystery because you really know what the crime is right away practically. Like the passage I just read is like page 15. It's like it gets into it quickly. Like they just met basically, like Frank and Cora, the two leads in this book. It's like hardboiled crime fiction, which sort of started with Raymond Chandler in the "Big Sleep". This wave of new kind of way of writing about crime with Dashiell Hammett in the "Thin Man". And then when these books were made into movies in the '40s, like you said in the '50s, it was the noir. Like the film noir movement, like these sort of hard core crime books became noir-esque in the filming versions of them.
[Frank] And obviously there, you know, older Hollywoods, they had to be somewhat carefully done because the books themselves are very intense and graphic certainly for the time. I mean, "Postman Always Rings Twice" was banned in Boston when it was published in 1934.
[Frank] Because -- All right, so it's like basically like this very depression era character of Frank, the lead guy, Frank Chambers who's like basically riding along in a hay truck. He's like a sort of what they would call at the time like a bum, or just like a gadded like a -- he just travels from place to place scrounging whatever, you know, cash or food or handout he can get, you know?
[Frank] Like this I want to hit the open road, I'm a free kind of guy. He's like 24 years old. So he gets kicked off this like hay truck at the very beginning of the book and walks a couple of yards to the diner. And when he goes into the diner, there's an older guy and his much younger wife who, of course, the younger wife is like 21, the husband is like in his 40s. And then, you know, she locks eyes on Frank and Frank locks eyes on her. And, baby, nothing good is going to come of that. So they --
[Rhonda] I like the telling.
[Frank] It's just like I -- Just telling you about the book, you want to be like hardboiled because, like, you know, she's just like, get out of my face. He's like, I'm going to get in your face. And she's like, what about if I want you in my face? He's like, well, I'm going to be in it anyway. And then they kiss.
[Rhonda] Is that what the dialogue was like?
[Frank] Well, I'm sort of making it out. But it's like --
[Rhonda] But it's like that.
[Frank] You have to read it because it's full of that, like, slightly slangy hardboiled talk. And it's interesting because it doesn't have, you know, hey, get out of my face, she said. I want to get in your face, he said. There's no he said, she said. It's just dialogue quoted, and you think you sort of know who's talking. And then sometimes you don't even -- it doesn't even matter because who suggests what or who is the aggressor, who is the submissor. It's not as important if they're both sort of alternate that kind of passion. Basically, you know, in a book about love, really, about two people falling in love but then how they go about achieving their most beautiful vision of that love involves murder, of course.
[Frank] So they murder -- I mean, I don't know how much I should reveal because it's pretty much -- you know, it's not -- like I said, it's not a mystery. It's not like who did it.
[Frank] It's about how it's going to play out. They basically, if there's -- this is a spoiler alert, just tune out. They -- But it happens pretty quickly. They decided to murder her husband pretty quickly.
[Frank] Because she was like a -- so well subscribe. She was like a, you know, from Iowa or somebody who came to California because she was somewhat ready to be in the movies. And then as she tells him like, it was pretty quickly, my face is all right. But the minute I open my mouth, they could tell I was nothing but trash, nothing but garbage, and I was never going to be a movie star. And he's just like, you ain't garbage, baby. She's like, I know what I am. Don't tell me what I am. And it's --
[Rhonda] Frank, are you into that? Is that you?
[Frank] I'm just -- I'm flying high.
[Rhonda] OK. You're just, OK , you're [inaudible].
[Frank] So then they go about killing him, which is fascinating, because it doesn't take the first time around. But they keep pursuing it. And then there's lots of good elements here. One of them is that there's a big trial scene in the middle of the book with the district attorney and the prosecutor, obviously, and was so corrupt and so fascinating -- this is 1934, like something's never changed.
[Frank] It's explicitly clear that -- explicitly in the book, you get to know the lawyers who are doing this. They are totally playing this trial to win. They don't -- Either one of them doesn't care who killed who.
[Frank] They don't care. They just want to win. And they compete against each other. So everything they do and they -- it's pretty detailed about this trial is geared towards winning. And it's sort of like completely corrupt. And it's fascinating because that competition between these lawyers dictates exactly how these lovers are going to progress through there. They're achieving their goal of getting away with murder and getting the insurance money. Insurance is a big deal of it. It was also a big deal in "Double Indemnity".
[Rhonda] Right. That's what I was thinking. I felt --
[Frank] Yeah, which James Cain also wrote.
[Rhonda] Yeah, this is kind of a theme along that line, that genre of writing, you know, the plot to kill someone.
[Rhonda] And getting insurance money.
[Frank] I mean, it's like, you know, he's -- Frank, the lead guy is a -- I don't know what the word is like -- because it's all the things so -- you know, appropriate or to say like a hobo or like he's not a hobo. He's like what was the -- I wonder if there's an analogue for that. No, like the guys in the depression like rode the trains.
[Rhonda] Right, right.
[Frank] They got up wherever they could get and are just tough to fight their way through it. But he's tender and tender and loving with Cora, who's the girl. So, what was I going to say?
[Rhonda] Oh, sorry.
[Frank] What did you just said, Rhonda? You said, oh, the insurance is such a thing.
[Frank] What's interesting about it is that where they, you know, they fall madly in love right away. I mean, like the scene I read is they were just cordial to each other. And that's the scene and what happens when they come together, like she's just like, well, she's the one that said bite me. And he was it like, OK. There's some interesting sex scenes later. I mean, it's sort of provocative. But the sad thing that becomes very poignant at least to me in the reading of it is that Frank is this gad about dude who was just like, let's just leave like, forget killing him. Like it's just like, I'll take you when will hit the road together. We'll just be like bums together. And she's the one that says like, what? And I'll be like a Hash House waitress and you'll like work on the docks for a week and then we'll move on.
[Rhonda] So that's what I was going to ask you, because I was wondering, like, what was the power dynamic, like who was the one really driving and planting the seed of murdering the husband?
[Frank] She was.
[Frank] Because of what I was just saying, she wants a better life. And that's sort of like the downfall because her aspirations for the American dream juxtaposed with her saying she's trash, but wanting to not just hit the road but kill him, get the insurance money, get the diner, live well, make the money, have the American dream is what brings her down because she's -- it's a risk because she's saying, you know, I'm not a good person. And also, just say like I want to achieve that American dream through murder. In a way, there's sort of poetic quality to that. You know what I mean? Like, the American dream has such positive connotations in some ways, but such corrupt positive connotations in some ways is that she wants it at all costs.
[Rhonda] Right. She'll get it one way or the other.
[Frank] Right. And he's just like, all right, I'll go along with you, baby. You know, it's us, you and me down the line. And --
[Rhonda] What was -- So, does she really love him or is he kind of just like a way to help her find a way out of the situation that she's stuck in?
[Frank] So you know your genre because she's the femme fatale who would manipulate the guy figures prominently in these hardboiled war stories like "Double Indemnity". But in Postman, she does love him. She does, Rhonda, she does.
[Frank] She really does. It's made very clear. She -- He is a way out but it's not -- she isn't choosing him because he just happened to roll along. She does fall in love with him. She's actually very much in love with him, which is manifested later in different scene. I mean, there's betrayal upon betrayal. You know, she leaves -- has to leave town for a reason. And the minute she leaves, he's like hooking up.
[Frank] Yeah. And like, in a way, but it's really well done. Because you don't sense that he's just a cold like user of people or women. It's his fear of connection really. He wants to be a free guy. He's just like I can't -- He wants -- There's another quote actually. He wants to be this on the road free person but he's really just -- because he's afraid of love. He's this -- He's in a way a very sweet guy, I think. But there's a line towards the end. I don't know. It's very simple but it struck me because of what they -- I just described what they did to achieve their dream or her dream of the American dream by killing somebody. And he sort of can't -- once that happens between two people, the book makes clear, it's like you sort of can't escape it. And that's another reason why he runs to this other woman for a minute when she leaves town because he -- he's trying to escape. And he's even thinking of leaving town with this other woman. And he says to himself like she -- it's an interesting subplot where she's a sort of lion tamer, cat wrangler, big cat wrangler. And she's just like, maybe we'll go to Nicaragua. We'll get some jungle cats and bring them back and train them and make them -- make a big boodle on that by a traveling carnival. And he's just like, it sounds great. But then he realizes he's sitting -- lying in bed with her and he says to himself, Nicaragua is nowhere far enough away to get away from what I've done, you know, like that intersection.
[Frank] And so when -- but when he goes back to Cora, she does find out interestingly later, but they are talking and they realize it's just them together because of what they've done. They're sort of bonded together, chained together, like were chained to each other, Cora. We thought we were on top of a mountain. That wasn't it. It's on top of us. And that's where it's been ever since that night. And then Cora says, is that the only reason you came back? He says, no, it's you and me. There's nobody else. I love you, Cora. But love, when you get fear in it, it's not love anymore. It's hate. She says, so you hate me? He says, I don't know. But we're telling the truth for once in our life.
[Rhonda] I love that.
[Frank] And I felt exactly that was sort of very introspective and poignant to him. When he says, like, I don't know if I hate you, but we are telling the truth now, we're not --
[Rhonda] Yeah. He's like, what was it? We were on top of the mountain but the mountain is now on top of us.
[Rhonda] I think that's --
[Frank] Like killing him and getting it, they would be on top, baby. They would rule the world. They'd get what all they dreamed of and, you know, they realize they can't get away. That's another interesting thing about the title is that the "Postman Always Rings Twice" is very much debated about what the title means, because there is no postman in the book and there's no plot point that revolves around that. And it's almost like there's been various discussions of what it could mean. One is that back in the day, the postman would knock on your door or ring your bell once if he was just delivering the mail. But if he had a telegram which required a signature, he would ring twice, and a telegram almost always meant bad news because it was something that was urgent. So, the "Postman Ring Twice", it was just bad news, baby.
[Frank] I actually think it could almost mean like this concept of there is in the plot like a murder and then on -- well, there's an attempted murder then a successful murder. Then there is the successful murder and then a final killing. So, it could be you only get two chances and then your number is up, like the postman is justice, like the justice rings twice but then you have to answer and pay the price. So, it's a great book. It's --It was a book I was in the mood for -- on our best books, our, you know, books we love list, for the New York Public Library, Raymond Chandler's "Big Sleep" made it. "Postman Always Rings Twice" could easily have been on the list. But with limited space, "Big Sleep" made it on. But James Cain, I want to read more of his books because he's a good writer and it was that kind of book that another time you might pick and be like, what is this? Like, I'm not reading this hardboiled nonsense, getting out of here. But when you're -- but he's writing is good, period. It jumps up and I was in the mood for that sort of terse, no nonsense like sort of primal pantomime of two people in love and desperately both think they're nothing but want something. And just that whole -- like you would pick up when I read it at the beginning, that whole noir tough game, tough guy thing, is somehow appealing because it's sort of -- it doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is. Like --
[Frank] Not like, you know, this -- there's some pleasure in reading about people who hate each other.
[Rhonda] I love, you know, so many of those movies, but I actually have never thought about actually picking up the book.
[Frank] Yeah. The movies are fantastic. They sort of take -- like Lana Turner and John Garfield did "Postman Always Rings Twice" in the '40s and it's so good. It's a different experience but, you know, I've seen the movie but the movie actually pretty much follows the plot points pretty closely. They don't change a lot. You know, he doesn't bite her and draw blood in --
[Frank] -- from 1940s movie. But, you know, they are pretty streaming in that movie. But, yeah, they made really good movies. But reading the book is an experience. I also loved it because I wanted to read something that was written long enough ago but not like Victorian era. Something like from the set of 20th century.
[Frank] Just also which I love doing is comparing how people write about different ethnicities, how they write about the sexes, how they write about romance like just to see what was, in quotes, acceptable or not acceptable. And like I said, this book was so intense that it was banned in Boston for God's sake.
[Rhonda] My goodness.
[Frank] So, yeah. I had a good time with it.
[Rhonda] It sounds -- That sounds like a nice pick, Frank.
[Frank] Yeah. So I have this first [inaudible] and that's falling apart which I'll -- Oh, so I put on Instagram. I took a picture of it. And the light heads was coming in through blinds. And it was cutting it into like these venetian blind light on the page. I was like this so noir. I have to photograph it and put it on Instagram. So I did.
[Rhonda] Oh, that sounds -- I have to check that out, check out Instagram and see the noir photograph.
[Frank] That's right.
[Rhonda] Yeah. It's amazing.
[Frank] So "Postman Always Rings Twice" by James Cain.
[Rhonda] Awesome. Well, should I jump into what I picked up this week?
[Frank] Why don't' you?
[Rhonda] So, I was trying to think of something, you know, a little bit lighter than what I had been reading before. And I came across this book. It was published last year, so very new, written by Kevin Wilson called "Nothing to See Here". Have you heard of this, Frank?
[Frank] I don't think so.
[Rhonda] OK. So this was a -- The book has a very interesting concept. I'll start off. So it's told to us, first person, by a young woman named Lillian. And Lillian is like in her late 20s. This is set in like the late '90s in Tennessee. And she's kind of living like her worst life. She has a job that she hates that pays minimum wage. She lives in her mother's like hot attic. And her mother and she don't get along. And she's like a loner and she's kind of like really bitter. And that's kind of also somewhere where the humor in this book comes from is just kind of her take on the world. It's very kind of like bitter and snarky and she kind of has some good one-liners. But -- So she gets this letter. And the letter comes kind of from the one person in the world who she actually cares about, which is this woman, her friend named Madison. And Madison lives kind of the exact opposite life that she is living, like she's super wealthy, she's married to a senator who's like 25 years older than she is. She has a baby boy. She's kind of like on the cover of magazines and beautiful and living this life and she gets this letter saying, you know, Madison is saying I need your help. I have this job for you. I think you would be perfect for it, which I'll send you a bus ticket, just come. She doesn't know what the job is. She doesn't tell her anything. And Madison is just like, OK. I mean, Lillian, I'm sorry, is like, sure, I'll do it.
[Frank] Just to send her a bus ticket? That's very generous.
[Rhonda] I know, right? And I'm wondering, like, maybe [inaudible] the same day. I don't know. But I thought the same thing you thought, Frank. I was like, why do she has all this money she's sending her bus ticket, but.
[Rhonda] Yeah, right? I thought --
[Frank] She's [inaudible] get the flag right away.
[Rhonda] Exactly. So, it's kind of interesting, as you know, why Lillian kind of jumps at this opportunity to go see Madison, because they have this very kind of contentious background. They met when Lillian was very young. She got a scholarship to go to the super, super fancy boarding school. And they met because Madison was her roommate, but Madison kind of fell in with this wrong crowd and long story short, the RA found like this bag of cocaine in her desk. And her father stepped in who was also kind of like this big time politician and basically paid Lillian's mother, or Lillian to take the rat. And Lillian got kicked out --
[Rhonda] --of the boarding schools and kind of her life just went straight downhill after she got kicked out the boarding school. But, you know, they kept her -- Lillian and Madison have kept up this correspondence with each other. And you can't tell if Lillian has this kind of, you know, infatuation with her. She's in love with her. She idolizes her. But she's going not just to get away from her crazy life, but because she has some kind of strong, strong feelings about Madison, which we kind of don't figure out until later. And she goes there, not knowing what the job is. And, you know, she goes to Madison's estate. She lives on this huge estate and they have guest houses and security and full-time staff.
[Rhonda] And, you know, Madison basically says to her, my husband had a wife and a family before me, and the wife has died and there are two twins. There's one set of twins. They're 10 years old. And they're living with their grandparents right now but we need someone to take care of them for the summer. And she's like, oh, that's, you know, that's the big deal? That's what you want me to take care of these kids? And she goes, well, you know, these kids have kind of an affliction. Like, they have something that's kind of wrong with them. And she's like, OK, so what is it? Well, she says, you know, when these kids get agitated, when they kind of get upset, they burst into flames. They -- Yeah, I know. So, they suffer from some kind of condition where they have --
[Frank] Like pyrophobia or pyro -- What would be a medical suffix? I don't know.
[Rhonda] I don't know it either. So, they --
[Frank] And she is -- But they don't die from it. They just burst into flame then simmer down, so to speak?
[Rhonda] Exactly. So, what happens is they -- though, you know, it can come in stages so they can, you know, get a little bit of fire that's kind of like going up and down their arms, or they kept just falling into flames but it does not hurt them. So, they'll just kind of turn red like they have a sunburn, but anything else will catch on fire. So, like if they're wearing clothes, their clothes will burn off but they -- their hair won't get burnt, they won't get burned. If they're sitting on a couch, the couch will burn up, you know? So they will not get hurt, but everything else will catch on fire.
[Frank] That's the danger.
[Frank] All right.
[Rhonda] So, they -- So the thing is Madison is asking her this because the husband is, you know, in line to become Secretary of State and they really see these kids as like a problem.
[Rhonda] Kind of like, well, what are we going to do with these kids? And they chose Lillian and basically because she thinks Lillian is someone who she can kind of trust and pay off, who will just kind of take care of these kids for the summer until they figure out like how are they going to solve the problems.
[Frank] Does Madison look at Lillian with a little bit of, sort of, you know, like, she's a sucker in a way?
[Rhonda] A little bit. And it's the character -- the way they've kind of built or the author's built Madison in his book is kind of just almost pure ambition, you know? She's kind of, you know, married to the senator and every time she has these conversations with Lillian, always she's driven to some purpose like, well, this is going to help me get to this point. And this is going to help me to get to this point. And she kind of wants to be a senator herself. So she kind of sees everything through that lens of power and how am I going to get to --
[Rhonda] -- this part of my life that I'm looking forward to. And she, in my opinion, is that she sees Lillian as part of that solution.
[Rhonda] But, yeah, and Lillian speaks of herself a lot as not being able to kind of really love people. And, you know, she's been hurt by so many people in her life that she's cut everyone off. But Madison seems the much less compassionate person, in his book, than Lillian does.
[Rhonda] So, Lillian, yeah, she goes and picks up these kids and they send her by herself or with this kind of security guard to get these kids. And of course, the kids get scared. So the first thing they do is burst into flames.
[Frank] So is that what kicks their bursting into flame like fear or in a high emotion?
[Rhonda] Right. Any kind of like fear, agitations --
[Rhonda] -- uncomfortability -- you know, anything uncomfortable situations. And she -- And this is the quote of when the first time she sees them catch on fire. She says, I realized there were delicate yellow flames moving up and down Bessie's arms. Bessie is one of the twins.
[Rhonda] And then like a crack of lightning, she burst fully into flames, her body kind of firework. The fire white and blue and red all at once, it was beautiful, no lie to watch a person burn. So she kind of, you know --
[Frank] Oh, my god.
[Rhonda] I know this takes us all in stride. And her approach to it is kind of funny because you can tell she has no idea how to take care of kids and she doesn't even see the fire as a problem. She's like, well, I'll just keep a bunch of wet towels around. She's like, I, you know, I once took care of a bunch of like kittens in an alley behind the house before like I can do this, you know? Like, I can just like -- we'll just sit down and we'll just read magazines together and that'll be that, right? So she kind of just kind of takes us all in stride. But, of course, you know, the kids eventually kind of come to trust her. And they take the kids back and they kind of get quarantined, like we are right now, because the family wants to keep them hidden. So they give them this kind of house on this estate. And it's just like the three of them together and they build this bond and they learn to trust each other. She works within to kind of control these urges to catch on fire. And even though there's a lot of humor in the story, basically from the way that Lillian is kind of telling it to us, it really is actually kind of sad, also.
[Rhonda] Because you find out that the reason that their mother died, was their mother kind of couldn't handle their situation. So her mother had planned to commit -- for all three of them to commit suicide together and --
[Frank] Wait, for the mom and the two kids?
[Frank] But the kids are only 10, you said.
[Rhonda] Right, exactly.
[Rhonda] So the mother does -- They were going to take pills. So the mother takes the pills but the twins don't do it. So they don't take the pills, so the mother dies and then they describe it and they say they go into the Brighton yard after their mother has died. And they burst into kind of like the biggest fire that they have ever created. And they're just like on the front lawn while their mother, you know, has passed away in the house and they're just kind of burning everything down. And then yeah, and she said the fire department comes and that's how they were found. And they get put with the grandparents who didn't care about them at all. And then they get brought here to this other family who kind of sees them as a problem. And you see that Lillian who's always kind of felt the same way that she was kind of seen as a problem, you know, with her family and the relationships that she has had, and she begins to bond with them over the fact that they're all kind of these outcasts. And people have always kind of seen them as, you know, something just to be dealt with, the problem to be dealt with. And they bond over that. So when it's time for them to actually split up, it becomes, you know, this kind of really emotional situation to the point where Lillian kidnaps them.
[Frank] Oh, my dear.
[Frank] So the primary relationship is the three of them in that book.
[Frank] Oh, wow.
[Frank] Well --
[Rhonda] And --
[Frank] Go ahead.
[Rhonda] Go ahead, please.
[Frank] No, I was going to say like, when you might be going on to that but like this -- is this like -- this is more of a humorous book, yes? Or --
[Rhonda] It is. Yeah.
[Frank] OK. The fire, the bursting into fire, would you say it's a metaphor for something or just an outsider?
[Rhonda] I think so. I mean, I was thinking about that. And I was thinking like, well, maybe it has to do with people, you know, the situation where, you know, most of us can find a way to kind of control our emotions, to hide what we're feeling, you know, to keep what we're doing, you know, inside hidden. And maybe Lillian is kind of like that too, because Lillian is such a loner. And then she has to deal with these kids who can't hide that. Like whenever they're feeling uncomfortable, whenever they're feeling agitated, you know, it's -- the most -- you know, the thing that attracts people most, you know, fire, they just kind of burst into flames. But -- And it's interesting because she -- the kids keep saying, you know, we can't control it, we can't control it, we don't have -- you know, they take them to doctors and just --
[Rhonda] -- different kind of professionals and they don't know why. But Lillian does find out later that they really kind of can control it.
[Rhonda] And they do kind of use it. And I don't want to spoil too much. But, you know, at the end before -- the reason that she's kidnapping them is that the father decides, OK, what I'm going to do with them is I'm going to kind of send them to this institution, you know, for troubled kids. And the kids kind of freaked out and they start this fire. So they're on fire but also what they decided to do [inaudible] kind of describes it is they're in their father's kind of like ancestral Tennessee home, which is kind of like this big plantation. And they kind of start going around the house and just kind of touching everything while they're on fire. And they're just kind of like starting these little fires, touching all of these little things. And then she puts him in the car and she just kind of, you know, they go away. But --And another interesting part of the story is they always kind of blame the kids' mother. But it turns out that it was actually the father who's the one -- I'm spoiling this, I'm sorry. But he's the one who is passing the fire gene.
[Frank] I know.
[Rhonda] And so, yeah, so.
[Frank] The key person to blame too?
[Rhonda] He does it but they find that out because he gets the job as Secretary of State. And so, it's him and Madison and Madison's -- the little boy that they have together who's two years old and they're standing in front of the, you know, the government building and doing a little press conference and little boys in her arms and he just ignites.
[Frank] Oh, dear.
[Rhonda] Yes. And so, that's kind of how they realize it. And this is what's interesting is it's only when Madison's son ignites into flames, is when she starts to kind of feel compassion for these kids.
[Rhonda] And when she starts to think like, you know, well, I'm not going to put my kid in a silence. So maybe he's not [inaudible], you know?
[Frank] Like it's typical when it hits close to home, I guess, then people start stepping too.
[Rhonda] Right, exactly.
[Frank] That's so interesting.
[Rhonda] Yeah. So, you know, I've spoiled it a lot so I'm not going to -- [Frank;] Spoil any further.
[Rhonda] Right. And, you know, there's other things, you know, Madison and Lillian's relationship that they kind of have to deal with and just kind of -- I felt like it ended in a satisfying place. I won't tell exactly what happened. But it is -- there are a lot of dark elements but it is a humorous book, because it's very dark humor. And the way that it's told, you know, it's kind of told to this kind of humorous lens. The way that Lillian is kind of viewing this whole situation and she has to kind of like, like I said, kind of snarky attitude, these one-liner. So -- And it's not a very long book but --
[Rhonda] It was it a nice piece.
[Frank] Well, I bet as you were talking, I have to say, it sort of made me giggle to myself just the image of like if this -- well, this relates of like two kids like in full flambeau and like Lillian is saying, nothing to see here, everything is fine.
[Frank] And it was like, you know, sparkling like, you know, exploded sparklers.
[Frank] Sort of amusing. It's interesting if you think about like all the books you can write with kids like, especially having a power or having a capability that's not common. Like, I was thinking in one point like invisibility, like what kind of havoc that would wreak or what kind of metaphor that could be. But bursting into flame is certainly a provocative one.
[Rhonda] It is. It was interesting. Yeah.
[Frank] Wow. So did you pick this up just randomly or how did you find it?
[Rhonda] You know, I was looking at, you know, kind of like in certain -- when you like on Goodreads or Audible or anything like that and they're like based on your past.
[Frank] Oh, yeah.
[Rhonda] And this is one of the recommendations. And so, I was kind of -- And also I was kind of looking for something a little more humorous.
[Rhonda] And I was like, oh, when I read the description of this, I was like, kids spontaneously combust. Like that might be something kind of interesting, you know?
[Frank] Yeah, like Goodreads. It's like Rhonda, you're a cuckoo bird. Here's something good.
[Rhonda] There's something in my life.
[Frank] It's true. I guess the last time when we read "Train Dreams", I was saying like I have to pick something that's funny, you know, or something humorous. I'm glad you did -- I went to some dark place with Postman even though there was there was a pleasure to it only because of its distance, like because it was written like this point like 90 years ago, 80 years ago. It's not a light-hearted book, but it's almost pleasurable in a positive way because of it's -- the distance of time, it's not as shocking but it's such a trope that it -- it's a familiar genre that gives -- can give one pleasure. Familiar to some people. Some people might not know film noir or I'm simply talking back about my book and forgetting yours, I'm sorry.
[Rhonda] That's fine.
[Frank] Yeah, anyways. But, right, this hard-boiled fiction which is sort of a progenitor for so many other writers that came after. I don't know what genre your book would be.
[Rhonda] I don't know either because it's not -- I would not consider even though they do something kind of, you know, that has never been proven to happen, I wouldn't call it science fiction or anything like that, because they just describe it as like, oh, they just have this medical condition.
[Rhonda] And like we're keeping it hidden and -- I don't know, it would be I like a dramedy, you know, that --
[Frank] It's like basically like life as we know it with just this one off ingredient that everyone just sort of takes for granted. It's like oh, just like any other condition.
[Rhonda] Right. Yeah.
[Frank] OK. But humorous. "Nothing to See Here" by Kevin Wilson, you said.
[Rhonda] Yes, Kevin Wilson. I've never read anything by him before. That was the first book I read by him.
[Frank] Has he written other books?
[Rhonda] Yeah. Look, he's had -- he has a few, maybe like three or four other books out there.
[Frank] Really? I thought like, you know, the show --
[Frank] So I mean, I -- poking through my own bookshelves like we'll see what we yield. I have to say like, you know, having stuff at home -- Thank you, Rhonda, by the way. But having stuff at home and, you know, just like I took out a lot of stuff before I left the library before it closed, things that I would normally be like, hey, I don't want to. I've been -- because I don't know -- I've no other choices, like I don't have streaming either. Yeah.
[Rhonda] Yeah. Wait, what?
[Frank] I know. Maybe I will at some point. But I didn't really -- I'm not -- I wasn't prepared for this because I also have like a very old laptop that doesn't work.
[Rhonda] Oh, wow.
[Frank] But it's working now. But -- So, I'm choosing things that I would normally be like, yeah. But there's a serendipity to that too, because I've actually enjoyed a couple of things, you know, like I pulled out an old movie that I had took out from a pre-Code Hollywood movie from the early '30s with Kay Francis and William Powell called "Jewel Robbery".
[Frank] And I was just like, you know, indifferent about it. And then I watched it and it was absurdly silly and funny, because it's like William Powell is like this dapper jewel thief and Kay Francis is a rich lady in the jewelry store who when he comes in says, OK, everybody, we're on lockdown. The store is locked because I'm going to rob the store. And she's like, oh, dear. And it's just like this -- and they just have banter throughout like, you know, sort of like that early '30s sort of like smart banter. And then it's -- it was so charming that I was like, I never would have watched this and I loved it. But --
[Rhonda] All the movies are really charming.
[Frank] I don't know. What?
[Rhonda] A lot of those --
[Frank] I know.
[Rhonda] -- they are pretty comedies in musicals.
[Frank] It's just how we find things, that's all. I mean, just this reading thing for me is this like I'm reading this book in the way I did, like this first edition, 1934 edition of "Postman Always Rings Twice" has just added another layer of pleasure for me. And I turned one page and like the corner did -- was so brittle that it came off and I had to be careful but like -- I'm going to post some pictures of it just --
[Frank] -- old books. It's sort of cool. But have you seen anything or --
[Rhonda] So I do my streaming. So one of the things I kind of decided to do during this quarantine time is I was like, well, maybe I should go back and try to watch some of those shows that were really popular at a certain time that I never watched while everyone else was watching it, you know, like "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men" and stuff like that. So, I've never seen any of those shows. So I went back and I started watching "Orange is the New Black".
[Frank] That's awesome.
[Rhonda] Which I am -- I've never seen. I'm really enjoying it. And I was thinking, you know what you were saying, Frank, about, you know, loving to fill up books, I totally get that I was, you know, I was looking at my bookshelf and I'm like, well, you know, a lot of my stuff is really kind of -- you know, that I have at home is like kind of dry, you know, memoirs [inaudible] biography, those things on my shelves. So I am -- I have to turn back to the old Kindle and the audio books.
[Rhonda] But, you know, that's a different kind of experience within itself, because I'm probably going to be listening to a lot more things, so.
[Frank] Yeah. I mean, like what we said on this podcast before, even though I might not have obeyed it all the time, no shame ever when you read.
[Frank] We do book reading and [inaudible]. Yeah, it says personal preference and I hope I never come off as like that silly knob. It's just I do feel protective. I think people feel -- or certain kinds of readers feel protective of their reading habits and how they read. It's such an important activity. I think about that more and more. I mean, there's so much at the phone and screens that is just exhausting. I mean, there was like an email -- Did you see that email going around in the library that someone who was writing about how -- like I started twitching because they had spent so much time in their phone and they were suggesting ways of just getting off the screen for a while and taking care of your like your face basically, which is starting --
[Rhonda] Oh, absolutely, yeah. Being on the phone and on the screen can be difficult. But we had the kind of Kindle that's called the Paperwhite where the -- it looks like its paper, so it doesn't look like a screen.
[Rhonda] But, yeah, I think I would definitely not be able to do as much if I was looking at like the phone or the -- But some -- I guess in some situations as you know, people want to read new things, that's their only, you know, their only option.
[Frank] I mean, it's interesting -- you know, I just realized another -- jumping off point for reading the "Postman Always Rings Twice" is that -- and it relates to another point that I was thinking about as well, obviously, over the last two months., is that before we closed one of the last classes, we did at Jefferson market, my library, we offer professors from local colleges and universities teaching classes in the library where the public can attend for free. And the last -- one of the last ones we did was a class on reading noir. And the professor from Hunter College had a reading list of "Postman Always Rings Twice", the "Big Sleep", "Laura", all the folks that were made into famous movies. So she would -- they would just -- there's a class that discuss the book and they've watched clips in the movies. And that was another inspiration. And the reason why I mentioned that, too, is that when you talked about the Kindle and the Paperwhite, and I talked about the books that I have to read or how I like to read, it's of course making me think in this time of the library being closed and people being quarantined in their homes, like how will change like the use of the library in terms of physical space. Because the physical space will take a long time to come back. But it's been my focus for my whole career, I've realized, is that doing those classes, bringing people into the library, giving them books, like I always got physical copies of the books for these classes, and the public could read how they want. But I -- it was a point for me to do that. And it'll be interesting to see if people come back like, oh, I missed my books, or they'll have new habits. It's all good. I think the library, what they've been doing in New York public and many other systems like having the e-resources has been like a boon for people. I read a comment on our sticky note thing about praising the library that someone said that the e-books have been a lifesaver for this person, because she had nothing else to read in the house, so.
[Rhonda] I mean, I agree. I don't even know if I could, you know, do the podcast if we didn't have the e-books. Because that's how I'm getting all of our new books, right, so.
[Frank] Oh, we -- do we have to announce the next book readings in the book list?
[Rhonda] Oh, it is.
[Rhonda] Is it a book? It is? OK, great.
[Frank] You reminded me when you said that you have nothing to read. I was like, well, you do now because I know all the books from the 125 books we love list, New York Public Library's celebration of its 125th anniversary this year. Librarians in the New York Public Library picked 125 books in the last 125 years. And Rhonda and I are reading our way through it. So the next one I would like to read is a book called the "Argonauts" by Maggie Nelson.
[Frank] So, everybody out there, you can get a copy of the "Argonauts", A-R-G-O-N-A-U-T-S, by Maggie Nelson. It's a memoir, I believe. I haven't read it. I don't' know much about it. But I would like to read it. So, let's do it. What do you think, Rhonda?
[Rhonda] I think that sounds good. I have not read it either.
[Rhonda] Yeah. And it'll be our first memoir that we discuss. Our first nonfiction, I think. So, I think that'll be interesting.
[Frank] Yeah, I think so too. So, that will be on the June 4th episode.
[Frank] So everybody has plenty of time to read it if they'd like and then read along with us because we will give -- do spoilers and discuss the whole thing. So, there we go.
[Frank] Any final thoughts, my darling?
[Rhonda] Well, I think wasn't our -- the library's birthday this week? Was it the 11th?
[Frank] Oh, yeah. You know, I knew May 11th, which is -- like yeah.
[Rhonda] I think [inaudible] birthday.
[Rhonda] I don't know, something like that. But you know, happy birthday, I guess, New York Public Library.
[Frank] May -- So May 11th. Right, that's the 125th.
[Frank] Yeah, it must be. So silly. Well, I do [inaudible], the lions in front of the 42nd Street building, yes, yesterday, of course thank you for mentioning it, is the actual birthday, May 11, 1895. So silly.
[Rhonda] There's none.
[Frank] Thanks for giving a shout out to P and F [inaudible]. All righty.
[Frank] If I haven't interrupted you enough, then I think we can sign out, right?
[Rhonda] Sounds good. Let's do it.
[Frank] All right. My darlings, everyone out there, I hope you're all well and good and reading and managing your time and hopefully on your way to thriving again.
[Frank] I'm Frank and thanks for listening.
[Rhonda] All right. I'm Rhonda. Until next time.
[Narrator] Thanks for listening to "The Librarian Is In". A podcast for the New York Public Library. Don't forget to subscribe and leave a review on Apple podcasts or Google Play or send us an email at podcasts@ nypl.org. For more information about the New York Public Library and our 125 anniversary, please visit nypl.org/125. We are produced by Christine Ferrell. Your hosts are Frank Collerius and Rhonda Evans.