May 13, 2011 | French
John & Francine Haskell Library
I continue my quest for French books in New York.
Don’t want to actually buy books? (Yep, intentional split infinitive; I believe in them.)
Then go to the John & Francine Haskell Library, at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF). Members can check out music, learning tools, movies…and yes, books! Lots and lots of books.
In French, about French, about France, about other French-speaking parts of the world. You can read a French novel. Or learn to cook chicken in 10 different French ways. Or whatever!
En Route to FIAF
Fifth Avenue, Tail End of Rush Hour
Plus another nice thing is that the people who work in the library know a lot.
And they all speak French—it’s a requirement for employment there—so you can ask your research questions in French and check out your books in French and maybe even be shushed in French if you make too much noise!
For Your Reading Pleasure
I visited the library last night around dinnertime to meet Ronda Murdock, the library services manager.
Ronda began working there in 1991 and has a great affection for the French language. She took me on a library tour (I am almost unreasonably fond of library tours).
One of our stops was the periodicals section. I love piles of magazines on lots of different topics. They make me feel as though there’s so much good stuff in the world to read.
And as though I am way, way behind, though over the years I have learned to coexist rather cheerfully with that nagging sense of inadequacy.
The Latest Magazines
Keep Up on French Fashion!
There is a room dedicated to the French needs of children. Very cheerful!
And also a room housing various media: Pimsleur (oral language lessons often mentioned in my blog, and which I love), French in Action (a popular language-learning approach that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gathering at Yale), several computers, and French TV!
Someone was watching TV while I was there, in fact, seeming very engrossed, and I fear my talking may have bothered him a bit.
Where Kids Can Have Fun, in French
Watching French Television (TV5MONDE)
The room also houses music CDs from French-speaking performers from around the world (including the famous wives of Johnny Depp and Nicolas Sarkozy).
“Music’s a great way to get into a language,” said Ronda, pointing out the library’s collection of rap CDs. Since I often can’t understand the words of rap songs in English, I don’t think this approach would work for me, but I find that many people can grasp lyrics with less careful enunciation than my brain seems to require.
My tour concluded with a visit to the history collection, on the second floor, where there are some old and very beautiful books. But a warning: you have to be at least 16 to go to the second floor.
Hmm, what’s in those history books anyway?
Some Beautiful Old History Books
The library sponsors numerous events as complements to its resources. There is Scrabble, for example—in French, which means lots and lots of e’s. There is also a current events discussion group, led en français by Yann Carmona, an engaging native of France I met yesterday, who also runs various French book groups (Cercles de lecture).
And finally, I would like to point out—after a morning of foiled, failed efforts to obtain a particular French title from local bookstores (it would take weeks)—there is at the library the ability to look for a particular French title, find a particular French title, and check out a particular French title immediately.
This fits well with a key element of New York City culture, namely, instant gratification. Many of us who live here are not too good at waiting for things.
I know I’m not. So I’ll be heading back to the library tomorrow to get a book.
P.S. You do have to be a member of FIAF to use the library, but the rates are not onerous compared to the many other things for which one must hemorrhage money in order to live in this city.
P.P.S. In light of a scary link a journalism friend recently sent me about Federal Trade Commission requirements affecting bloggers, I would like to underscore that I am not currently paying for my various FIAF activities. Yet I will swear on a pile of French grammar books that my effusiveness here is objective library effusiveness and not the grateful product of a waived fee.