Magic In The Stacks

I love this picture of RBG by Nancy Katz from MFAH’s photography collection.

At first glance Ginsburg appears distinguished in her judicial robe and lace, looking through large glasses at an open law book in her hands.

A closer look, and you see some playfulness in this composition. 

Ginsburg is firmly balanced on a stool, like a diminutive child taking a stand. 

There’s a teddy bear in the book cart. Maybe it’s her make-believe audience, or a beloved security toy like Linus’s blanket.

Book stacks attract me like a path in an enchanted forest. 

Stack of new non-fiction books at Helen Hall Library, League City Texas

Walking through my library, I follow my nose through memoirs and biographies, comic books and newspapers, nature essays and new fiction.

Second floor stacks at Helen Hall Library. Notice the stool is the same kind RBG is using in Katz’s photograph.

Law books don’t appeal to my magical sensibility. But I bet they did for RBG. 

From Katz’s photograph, it’s easy to imagine Ginsburg happy in a stack of law books, bounding from volume to volume, mentally tagging clues to laws, marking precedences, and gathering fodder for her groundbreaking legal arguments. 

Do you suppose RBG practiced her arguments out loud to the teddy bear before trying them out in front of Scalia and Sotomayer?

Every couple of months, my three sisters and I have a group phone call. After catching up on family and jobs and weather, we Invariably ask each “what are you reading?” 

Stack and display of new fiction, Helen Hall Library

During the last call, my oldest sister lamented that her city library was still closed because of the pandemic. She can still request books online and pick them up, but she hasn’t set foot between the stacks for more than six months. 

Online libraries and bookstores are wonderful modern conveniences. Amazon’s “you might also like” algorithm is a fine tool, useful, as far as it goes. But there’s nothing quite like being in the physical presence of books.

There is an electricity in the space around books that you can only feel in real life.  Books placed on a display table, or a shelf, or an endcap convey experiences that can only be shared by human readers.  

My son, in younger years, in the stacks at Helen Hall Library

I believe that RBG’s library will have residual magic for decades to come. Perhaps her teddy bear will remain in state among the stacks of law books, for the next justice to come along. 

Here is a list of the books placed at the endcaps of the second story stacks at Helen Hall Library in League City, Texas: 

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life, by Jane Sherron De Hart
  • First: Sandra Day O’Connor, by Evan Thomas
  • Scalia’s Court: A Legacy of Landmark Opinions and Dissents
  • The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right, by Graetz and Greenhouse
  • Doing Justice:  a Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, by Preet Bharara
  • The Long Reach of the Sixties: LBJ, Nixon, and the Making of the Contemporary Supreme Court, by Laura Kalman
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes:  A Life in War, Law, and Ideas, by Stephen Budiansky
  • Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America, by Wil Haygood
  • American Default: The Untold Story of FDR, the Supreme Court, and the Battle over Gold, by Sebastian Edwards
  • The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years, by Justice John Paul Stevens
  • Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equity to America, by Nathaniel Frank; 
  • The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts, by Joan Biskupic
  • The Lovings: An Intimate Portrait, Photographs by Grey Villet, Text by Barbara Villet.

For a lovely essay about missing libraries, check out Rachel Mankowitz’ “I Miss Going To The Library.

If you subscribe to, you might like this collection of Library Stories curated by Susan Orlean.


  1. You are right. There is nothing like the presence of a book in your hands. My husband loves reading but would surrender to technology when it comes to his beloved books.

    Liked by 1 person

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