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Tuesday, April 22

Jen Swann Downey’s Top Ten List of Things That Inspired Her to Write THE NINJA LIBRARIANS


  1. A desire to keep my family in butter and heat.
  2. My love of libraries – With all my soul, I have loved libraries since I remember loving anything. As a kid, libraries seemed like magic palaces of possibility. The shelves seemed to hold rows and rows of moveable worlds, each one fronted by a door in the shape of a book cover. All you had to do was swing it open and walk inside. And voila! Imaginary people and situations and places and choices. Those childhood books made it clear that I had choices about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I could live, what might count as “normal” or “good”. Libraries have to rate as one of our most beautiful human inventions, especially public ones.
  3. My love for Librarians - As a book-loving child, I regarded librarians with a strange kind of awe (and our local library as a sort of magical palace, stuffed with a dragon’s hoard worth of riches). Librarians were the keepers of all this treasure, and as such, mysterious and powerful custodians. There always seemed to be more to them than met the eye! Something secret and well-intended and unadvertised. Something underestimated, devoted, and heroic. My opinion didn’t change as an adult, as I began to understand that literacy, information and literature often occupied contested territory! It was easy and fun to imagine librarians – professional book protectors, literacy encouragers, and privacy champions -- as literal warriors, with swords as well as shortish pencils in their arsenals.
  4. A wish for a world where the greatest thinkers from history could hang out together – In fact, the idea for the story began with a concrete vision of a group of people from many different times sitting around a table chatting in a very casual way. You know putting their boots or sandals up on the table, and making off-color jokes that everyone else got. There may have been belching and a parrot making a nuisance of itself. I found this appealing because its easy when we look back at history to see people as very flat and unreal, or not quite human, the sum total of their achievements as we know them – books, works of art, paintings, schools of thought, buildings, etc. The people around the imagined table scene seemed thrillingly exotic and absolutely roundly human at the same time.
  5. Renaissance Faires. I love that kids and adults dress up at these events. I love that the world is full of people who like to think a LOT about what life was like in the past.
  6. A remembered younger self’s anxiety and frustration about facing the world without a plan for battling the darker forces I sensed lurking in the nightly news. The story revolves around a kid, Dorrie, stumbling upon the secret headquarters of a group of warrior lybrarians whose mission is to protect those whose words get them into trouble. It’s an uncomfortable time in Dorrie’s life when she’s losing her faith in her old vision about how she’s going to fight the world’s villains, and hasn’t yet conjured a new vision. I believe her conundrum came from my own memories of being a kid who imagined responses to threatening social realities like war, violence, racism, totalitarianism,, etc in games of “pretend”, and had to face bumping up against the limits of that strategy, as I got older.
  7. Being stunned that I could be over 40 before realizing that Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person, ten times more brave than the character Rostand created in his great play of the same name.
  8. Love of books written for children that adults enjoy from deep in their marrow.
  9. A crushing, keening empathy for a girl in a snippet of news playing on a post office television seven years ago whose father had just been killed by a missile strike.
  10. My awe of how much real courage has been displayed by people throughout history in order to merely express themselves. People with everything to lose, and nothing to gain but another day of feeling honest, have put personal well-being, social acceptance, houses and homelands, and their very lives on the line in order to express beliefs and thoughts. Abolitionists, poets, scientists, critics of all sorts of power-wielding institutions - nations, established religions, corporations, etc. Their stories make me catch my breath, and long to do some small thing, any small thing to champion them.
About the Author:


Jen Swann Downey’s nonfiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Women's Day, and other publications. She’s never visited a library in which she didn't want to spend the night. Jen lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family.

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