Cover image for The Dewey decimal system of love
The Dewey decimal system of love
Carr, Josephine.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New American Library, [2003]

Physical Description:
viii, 251 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Behind a french twist and sensible clothes, forty-year-old librarian Alison Sheffield hides an extravagant nature. But after last night, even her most proper attire can't disguise the signs-the pink cheeks, the extra-poufy hair, the bounce in her step. Alison Sheffield is in love. The heart-palpitating, nausea-inducing, silly, inexplicable, absurd and pointless kind of love found in a romance novel. And for once in her life, what Alison needs to know she can't find in any reference book-she can only live it...

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

After 15 celibate years, librarian Ally Sheffield is in love, and the object of her newfound affections is gorgeous maestro Aleksi Kullio, the latest conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic. The fact that Aleksi is already married is a mere obstacle for Ally, since she knows deep in her soul that the two of them were meant to be together. As Ally tries to figure out a way to get Aleksi to notice her, she discovers some interesting things about her friends, her coworkers, and herself. Carr's tale sparkles with sharp, clever, and occasionally earthy humor, and sassy, unconventional Ally is a terrific protagonist. The choice of which man is really right for Ally may be obvious early on to some readers, but much of the pleasure in this wonderfully amusing novel comes from Carr's realistic depiction of the everyday pleasures and occasional downsides to working in a library; her wonderfully quirky, all too real characters; and her delightfully acerbic prose. --John Charles Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Ally Sheffield, 40-year-old spinster librarian, woefully inexperienced, and 15 years celibate, is finally in love! So what if the object of her adoration is a world famous orchestra conductor-very married and totally unobtainable. Just watching him conduct makes her heart pound, her head light, and her stomach queasy. Naturally, the glow shows, and the first one to notice-and be stunned by it-is Ally's attractive boss, best friend at work, and, in her opinion, "serial womanizer," Gordon Albright. Although the book is marred by a somewhat jarring plot twist that ties up things a bit too neatly, Carr's quirky characters, screwball sense of humor, and right-on descriptions are marvelous, making the journey to the satisfying ending well worth the trip. This hilarious romp through the stacks (complete with relevant DDC call number areas and selected titles) will definitely attract the library set. In addition, the zingy, thoroughly modern tone and the exceptionally appealing heroine should catch the attention of readers who like their romances lively, smart, and funny. Carr has also written as Jody Carr (Monday's Child) and lives in Washington, DC. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 For questions about love, and, more particularly, inappropriate love, go to the 306.7s (e.g., The Single Woman-Married Man Syndrome, Addicted to Adultery, Affairs, Secret Loves, Keeping The Love You Find, etc.). Aleksi Kullio, the new conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic, strode onto the concert stage with quick, small steps, like a boy who hadn't learned to match his stride to the new length of his legs. I knew he was married. In fact, I could just glimpse the back of his wife's head, where she sat in the front row. Blond, of course. The Philadelphia Inquirer had devoted a front-page story to his arrival. We learned that after a dreamy childhood in his native Finland, he'd attended Harvard as an undergraduate, then the Curtis Institute of Music. His conducting style was described as "buoyant" and his wife as "gorgeous." The color photo showed a handsome, interesting, and vaguely cruel face. He was perfect and he was married and I was not. Something happens when you hit forty and you've never been married. It begins to feel permanent. You convince yourself that you never wanted to be married anyway because otherwise surely you would have been by now. Your friends have stopped fixing you up and you completely forget that a penis can be anything other than God's joke. Your therapist talks in an ever so gentle voice about the value of solitude. Flannel nightgowns and sheets, down comforters, and multitudes of pillows call your name with a low urgency that is positively sexual. So picture me, a librarian spinster, falling in love with a married man I didn't know and had no chance of ever knowing. I would have doubted it myself except that the body tells you when you fall in love. My body sure did. Simultaneously, I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out, and have a heart attack. My best friend, Suzanne, sat with her husband to my left. Her elbow poked me seconds after love had so unceremoniously grabbed me. "What?" I hissed. "Nothing." "Why'd you nudge me?" Her voice skipped from low to high. "He's a doll." "You're married, remember." It wasn't often that I got the opportunity to make her feel sorry for being married and I certainly wasn't squeamish about making the most of it. Applause resounded through the hall, a gracious, enthusiastic welcome to the new conductor. Suzanne turned her head and looked at me with an inappropriately stern expression. I hated it when she got bossy. "So's he," she said. I stuck my nose into the air. "I have no interest in a man's physical appearance. You know that." "Give me a break." She sighed. "He could look like a toad and there'd still be something marvelous about him." Aleksi Kullio turned away from us and in so doing gave the musicians a sweeping glance, lifted his baton, paused, and then lowered the baton. Mozart danced. I took a deep, shaky breath and exhaled slowly. The brief conversation with Suzanne had calmed my heart's palpitations, but I still felt like throwing up. I had to admit that I was no stranger to nausea. I was one of those thin, vaguely anorexic-looking women who didn't quite eat enough. Nothing major, just a mild distaste for food. I'd last eaten a bag of potato chips at four o'clock in the afternoon while I read a biography called Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire in my aforementioned bed. Now, she was a woman who lived. That is to say, she lived and loved. (Look it up in Biography, Devonshire.) Perhaps the duchess was responsible for my state. I think she'd made me jealous and oddly uncomfortable in my den of pillows and down. Had I gone soft? You're probably thinking that I'm using the term falling in love too loosely. Surely this was just a desperate crush, not much different from when you're fourteen? But it wasn't. I watched his arms wave like the wings of a bird fighting the turbulent air currents of a coming storm, and my crowded feelings jostled for space in my chest, shoving and pushing to breathe more freely. This was love, inexplicable and absurd and utterly pointless. My silly heart beat fast with the joy of it. Gordon Albright, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, was my boss and my best friend at work. Whereas with Suzanne I shared the feelings of my life, Gordon and I shared the facts of our lives. We met on the following Monday morning in the small back room where a coffeemaker, refrigerator, and square table were squeezed together, thus making us an unusually intimate library staff. He'd just finished adding too much sugar to his coffee and turned his strong, handsome face toward me. I knew enough, just from the way his hair poked up at the back of his head, not to ask about the weekend. A love affair lost or some such thing. His bored eyes shot open when he looked at me. I was so surprised that I made a little involuntary gasp. "What?" I gulped. "Your hair is great today." My long auburn hair was tucked into its usual french twist, no different from any other day at work during the last fifteen years. "Don't be ridiculous," I snapped. "It's all poufy and shiny." "Oh." "And your cheeks are pink like little flowers!" "Jesus." I picked up my Bryn Mawr mug and poured out some coffee, fighting the temptation to be pleased. "You're in love," Gordon said triumphantly. I whirled around. Then I grabbed a sugar and dumped it in the mug of coffee. "See!" He pointed triumphantly. I don't use sugar. We stared at each other, and he seemed to re-collect himself. We might talk about sex (his) and dates (his), but love was off-limits. Gordon rubbed a hand over his head, discovering and smoothing the errant lock of hair that made him look like a naughty boy. Somehow, right from the start, we'd never strayed into thinking of each other romantically. He was an attractive man, but just not my type. Untrustworthy was how I figured it early on, and judging by the vast numbers of women he dated-and never married-I'd been right. It goes without saying that I wasn't his type. Too thin and muscular, with tiny boobs and small brown glasses hiding my green eyes. Suddenly, feeling his attention drilling into me, I felt like Queen for a Day. I found myself standing straighter. Was I almost beautiful? Women know that we each have our moment. Clothed and out in the world, I was a discreet woman, just the sort you'd imagine behind the reference desk of your local library. But take off my clothes in the safety of my own apartment and I changed into a glittering, gleaming creature with white, silky skin, hair tumbling around my shoulders, and my taut body like the spine of a beautiful book with gold-embossed lettering. Only I saw this other creature and I couldn't pretend that I truly believed in her. She was my fantasy. "Any problems over the weekend?" I asked. "Ed created the usual difficulties, but the police handled things quickly." Like all public libraries, we were plagued by the homeless, but Ed was our greatest challenge because he was smart. He fell asleep for a short period of time, usually about twenty minutes, and then he leaped to his feet and approached the reference desk to request five obscure articles in ancient journals. The worst of it was that he read and took notes from the journals until he fell asleep again, then leaped to his feet and started all over. Every day, he carefully folded the pages of notes and placed them in the trash can as he left the library. On the weekends, he tried to get a more substantial rest by sleeping in the far corner of the 600s. He drove us round the bend. "I just wish he'd stop researching serial killers. I know he does it to make us nervous-" I muttered. "I'm going to see if there's anything we can do." We gulped our coffee. Yvonne, from the circulation desk, wandered into the room holding a carton of yogurt she would leave in the refrigerator until lunchtime. She began chattering to Gordon, clearly enamored. Silently I wished her caution and made my way out to Reference. It was only eight thirty in the morning and we didn't open our doors to the public until nine o'clock, so I had time to straighten up my desk. I was the head of the Reference Department, which meant that in addition to helping people find answers, I also advised Acquisitions of our major reference requirements. It required an enormous amount of reading and a good memory. I scooted my rolling chair around the reference area, where we had three desks (mine was behind glass walls in the back) and many of the more obvious materials were placed on deep shelves backed by a walnut half wall. After the weekend, things were always in a mess. I loved the act of cleaning up. It made me almost as happy as reading in bed or eating a piece of homemade vanilla cake. As I bustled to and fro, the chair squeaking faintly, my mind circled around an idea that I couldn't quite hold on to. Something pleasant, I was sure, because my stomach fluttered a bit. Then I remembered. There had been an interesting review of a Stravinsky biography in Publishers Weekly and I happened to notice that Aleksi Kullio had scheduled Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for a concert sometime during the fall season. I returned to my desk, looked up the review, and read it again, this time more carefully. I hadn't put a check mark next to the title, not even a question mark, so I'd obviously decided that such a massive, detailed biography of a classical composer wasn't necessary to our collection. It was a starred review. Quickly, not allowing myself to dwell on the rationale, I made a large, determined check mark. I would order the biography. The red pen dangled from my fingers as I imagined writing a note to Aleksi Kullio, a professionally warm little note, pointing out that, should he be interested, the Free Library of Philadelphia owned the newest and most definitive biography of Stravinsky. My unfocused eyes rose from the desktop and stared through the glass walls, beyond the reference section, and into the main reading room. A few people ambled about, and I realized that the doors had opened to the public. A woman's blond head bobbed about, coming closer to our reference area. I blinked. For a brief moment, I thought I'd seen Aleksi Kullio's wife. I looked again. She marched toward our walnut divider. Huge gold hoop earrings dangled from small ears. The blond hair fell in graceful swoops to her shoulders. It occurred to me that she-unmistakably Aleksi Kullio's wife-looked like the perfect bakery birthday cake. Her icing was sleek, with rosettes of flowers, and she clearly made mankind drool with hunger. Of course, bakery cakes taste like nothing at all. An enormous desire filled my chest with air. I rushed out of my office and over to the walnut divider, the air puffing my small breasts into little mountains. I wanted to blow out the birthday candles on her cake. Instead, I let out the air in a swoosh just as she reached me. Her face made a small moue of displeasure, which she almost immediately covered with a large, fake smile. We shared a too-long moment of silence until it occurred to me that I was supposed to say something. Actually, I'm not sure what Miss Manners would advise about this. Is there a correct way to decide who speaks first? "May I help you?" I said at last. Her turquoise eyes danced around, searching the other members on duty in the Reference Department. She obviously wondered whether I was up to the job. I spoke in a frigid tone, mimicking the chair of the English department at Bryn Mawr who, though otherwise brilliant, had had the unfortunate need to sound like British royalty. "I am the director of the Reference Department." Her eyes settled back on me. "I'm researching a novel," she said, "and I need some sort of resource describing little-known poisons." I nodded curtly. "Right this way." Now I sounded like a saleslady at Neiman Marcus. I led her down a row of library shelves, the number 615s buzzing in my ear. I stopped at a section of books, slid a finger along their spines, and then grabbed The Poisons and Antidotes Sourcebook. "This is just a start," I explained. "There are many other possibilities, but the bibliography should give you ideas of where to go next." I glanced at her. It was possible, I thought, that he'd married her for her pretty face and great body, not her intelligence. I hoped that even wondering this would cause my love to wither. No such luck. She took the book, turned her back, and marched over to a table. If you work in a library, you become used to the bad manners of the public. I don't mean to argue that it's forgivable, because it's not, but the lack of gratitude, the downright meanness and hostility, was an inevitable fact of life. Still, sometimes it bothered me. This was one of those times. In fact, I rapidly became engulfed with fury. I wanted revenge. I walked briskly back to my office, head held very high, and I sat regally on my rolling chair. Of course, I knew why I wanted revenge. I was hopelessly and foolishly in love with this blond bombshell's husband. Aleksi Kullio had never met me, would never want to meet me, and would never fall in love with me. Why, after fifteen years of hard-earned celibacy, why, oh, why was I doing this? Quickly I yanked out an order form and filled in the Stravinsky particulars. I would write that pleasant little note. Maybe I could personally deliver the book to him? Ridiculous, I moaned. It wouldn't make any difference. I stared at the wife. She was bent over the book so that the blond hair, which could be entirely natural, fell forward and hid her face. She was writing a novel and she was researching deadly poisons? My chin rested in the palm of my hand. She wasn't taking notes and she sure didn't look like a novelist. The Inquirer hadn't mentioned anything about a writing career. The long red fingernail of the wife of Aleksi Kullio flipped a page. I watched her for exactly four minutes, when she suddenly stood up and strolled out of the library. Naturally she did not replace the book on the shelf. In fact, she left it open on the table, still turned to the As. Her research hadn't been exactly extensive. I wasn't surprised. --from The Dewey Decimal System of Love by Josephine Carr, copyright © 2003 Josephine Carr, published by the New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. Excerpted from The Dewey Decimal System of Love by Josephine Carr All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.