Friday, August 7, 2009

Reading and not reading in Jersey City

The only stolen object of Grandpa’s that I possess is a dictionary, a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate edition, which he inscribed to my sister the year I was born: “From Grandpa. Hi Ya Paula. Year — 1965.” The call numbers on the spine and the blue stamp on a back page, which reads FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY JERSEY CITY, N.J., have been crossed out in blue indelible marker, his attempt to legitimize the gift. Grandpa obviously had his own interpretation of the phrase free public library.


In Jersey City, people were actively illiterate and proudly went around saying things like “I never read a book in my life.” They boasted that they had managed to get so far without reading a single page. I wanted to say, Well, good for you, you idiot. Look where you are. You’re still in Jersey City.

Helene Stapinski, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History (New York: Random House, 2002), 4, 107–108.
Part memoir, part ancestral scrapbook, part cultural history, Five-Finger Discount assembles stories of theft — petty and grand — and violence over several generations of family life and political life in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Jersey City : Helene Stapinski :: Dublin : James Joyce — a city to escape and hate and love.

comments: 2

Nancy said...

Quite possibly he did not steal it. Are you sure it doesn't say somewhere "Discarded" or "Withdrawn?"

Michael Leddy said...

Not having seen the dictionary, I’m not sure. : ) But Stapinski describes her grandfather’s habit of stealing from the Jersey City Library and Museum while working as a security guard. The dictionary is one piece of loot among many, including arrowheads, coins, and encyclopedias.