Good Books: The Personal Librarian

Good Books: The Personal Librarian

When asked to recommend a great book to alumni, Diane Boni ’84 responded with The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. The Alumni Book Club recently featured this historical novel, and Boni facilitated an online discussion about it.

book cover of The Personal LibrarianThe Personal Librarian is about Belle da Costa Greene who had worked at the Princeton University Library and was hired by J.P. Morgan in the early 1900s to catalogue his great collection of manuscripts. The main character has a secret that she must hide at all costs. She was actually born as Belle Marion Greener, a Black woman who hides her racial identity in order to thrive in a world that otherwise would not have accepted her.

The book is compelling, and it prompted me to read Heidi Ardizzone’s An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege, a non-fiction account of the same story. I found that while some of the conversations between the main characters were certainly imagined in the novel, they do seem to be grounded in existing correspondence. The real Belle actually burned most of these correspondences to preserve her secret. I recommend both books—they prompt important conversations about racism, equity, and opportunity.

headshot of Diane Boni

Boni was an English major at the University who spent 13 years as the director of English language arts (ELA), social studies, and libraries at the Greece Central School District, in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. She is a member of the University’s Lifelong Learning Advisory Council, as well as Warner School’s National Council and its CUES (Center for Urban Education Success) Advisory Council. Boni is also a docent at the Memorial Art Gallery and an active participant in the Alumni Book Club.

Looking for more good books? Join the University’s Virtual Alumni Book Club and peruse our Alumni Bookshelf.

This story originally appeared in the fall 2022 issue of the Buzz.

— Kristine Kappel Thompson, November 2022