Books

Book Review: ‘Our Bodies, Our Shelves,’ by Roz Warren

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A library is the great American equalizer. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, atheist or devout, have a Ph.D. or are a high school dropout, your public library welcomes you. It has no choice, as Roz Warren explains in her new book, Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor

If you read Women’s Voices, you know Roz: She has written 116—yes, 116—humor pieces for this site, on topics ranging from library peccadillos to the appropriate music for a colonoscopy to how she recycled her husband. (She also writes for The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jewish Daily Forward and The Funny Times.) Warren is the editor of thirteen humor books and a former lawyer; she gave up practicing “because I was tired of making so damn much money.” But it’s her decade of work at the Bala=Cynwyd Library in suburban Philadelphia for that informs this collection.

Librarians are regularly lampooned as dour, shushing matrons. Warren dubs herself and her colleagues “mild mannered librarians.” For, as she points out, librarians aren’t allowed to exhibit any emotion other than politeness. Not even when patrons curse, refuse to pay fines, or use cherry-flavored condoms for bookmarks. In this regard, librarians are true civil servants, obligated to remain calm under fire and withhold their anger, disgust, and laughter until they are behind closed doors. 

What can go wrong in a public library? According to Warren, just about everything. The nun who borrowed a Barbra Streisand video and showed it to her convent sisters, only to find out it was Swedish porn! The woman who is miffed when the library staff refuses to change her flat tire. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that always vanishes within 24 hours of being put on the shelf. And the patron who doesn’t see why she should have to pay for a book that was three months overdue. “’How could I pay it?’ she whined. ‘I was on vacation in the South of France!’”

At this juncture, Warren shares the secret of all public libraries. No matter how much you owe, no matter how many books you take, they can’t come after you. Librarians in orthopedic shoes will not picket your home or place of business. You won’t get hang-up calls at 3 a.m. No one will show up at your door with an arrest warrant. “Go ahead! Check out the entire library and keep it forever! Nothing will happen,” Warren writes in her signature wry, deadpan tone.

The funniest chapter, the one that me whooping out loud, was Warren’s discussion of Sexually, I’m More of a Switzerland, a collection of personal ads from The London Review of Books, edited by David Rose. Here’s a sample: “Tax-evading, nervous asthmatic (M, 47) seeks woman not unused to hiding under the kitchen table when the doorbell rings.”

But the real joy of reading Warren’s book comes not from what we learn about libraries, but what we learn about the author. At 60, Warren lays bare her past as a “hot chick.” The drugs, the sex, and a night with an unnamed “famous singer.” Following 20 years of marriage, she’s not merely accepting of her divorce, she’s ecstatic! “Now I’m with a guy who is consistently thrilling, and my ex is happily married to the actual love of his life. I call that a happy ending,” Warren writes. Amid the humor, Warren shares her values. “I support LGBT rights,” she proclaims, and shows her support by wearing a rainbow wristband. “That small splash of color sends a signal: I’m not as dull as you think I am.”

She also shares her colorful vocabulary. All those naughty words she’s forbidden to say in the library, she gives free rein to once she leaves work. I won’t quote her, but suffice it to say, Warren could make a longshoreman blush.

Warren also reveals (she revealed it first here on this site) that she has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, which results in countless embarrassing incidents. If she bumps into a library patron or a neighbor in an unfamiliar setting, such as at the dry cleaner’s, she has no idea who they are. Warren remains nonplussed. She brightly greets everyone with a cheery “Hello!” and hopes that they will fill in the blank. She writes, “Brad Pitt recently ‘came out’ as being face blind. (Which means that he and I have something in common besides our sexy good looks and charisma.)”

She admits that she gives a book only 20 minutes to win her over. After that, it gets re-shelved. She feels no pressure to finish a book just because it’s on a best- seller list or is a classic. Reader, be warned. You’ll be hooked by Our Bodies, Our Shelves way before the 20-minute mark.

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  • Kelly April 28, 2015 at 7:42 am

    LOVE this book!

    Reply
  • Andy April 28, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Loved the book. This review was spot on.

    Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr April 28, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Great book and great review. If you’ve ever been to a library, read Roz’book. You’ll be grinning the entire time.

    Reply
  • Donna Kirschner April 28, 2015 at 12:35 am

    Roz, I just ordered this and can’t wait to read it.

    On another note, we chatted briefly on Saturday. as I called to you from my car (you were crossing Montgomery Ave. good to know you likely didn’t remember me; it’s like meeting new, Friendly people over and over.

    I love your writing!

    Reply
  • Beth Lee Segal April 27, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    One can actually get in hot water for not returning a library book.
    I forgot about 3 books that got lost in a move years ago. But the
    Jefferson Market Library did not (Greenwich Village.) When my
    husband and I were buying our apartment, the mortgage broker
    called to tell me it was in my credit report! The library
    agreed to wipe my slate clean.

    Reply
  • roz warren April 25, 2015 at 10:59 am

    THANKS, Risa Nye, for dreaming up the book’s title! Everyone loves it.

    Reply
  • Risa April 24, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Hear, hear! I quietly second all of these observations. This book is a hoot and a half. I’m sure it would disappear from the shelves just as fast as those SI swimsuit issues!

    Reply
  • Roz Warren April 24, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Toni Myers THANKS for buying two books from via the WV link!! Hope you enjoy reading it.

    Reply
  • Toni Myers April 23, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I am buying a copy for me and another for a gift right now from the site. Can’t wait to read it.
    Who knows what lurks in the heart of libraries? All those wild books to begin with. All those crazy customers.
    Not to mention wild librarians disguised as “mild-mannered”

    Reply
  • Helene Cohen Bludman April 23, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Excellent review and I agree with the author 100%. The book is hilarious. I am hopeful there will be a Volume II someday,

    Reply
  • Mister Wonderful April 23, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    This is wonderful!

    Reply
  • hillsmom April 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

    This book had better be in every library in PA (and the country). Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the morning laughs, too.

    Reply
  • Janie Emaus April 23, 2015 at 9:10 am

    What a great review. I can’t wait to read this book!

    Reply
  • Roz Warren April 23, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Thanks, Stacia and Womens Voices For Change, for an amazing review. I’ve written 116 humor pieces for this site? Really? Please, everyone, if you’re going to buy Our Bodies Our Shelves, buy it via the link above and support WomensVoices! (So I can write 116 more.)

    Reply