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One of NYPL’s famous lions reading its own, lion-sized copy of Beloved by Toni Morrison (photo by the author)

The marble lions that flank the entrance to The New York Public Library (NYPL)’s majestic main branch in Manhattan are now doing more than stoically welcoming visitors and serving as climbing posts for over-active children. As of February 14, New York City’s most cherished stone felines are doing what one does at a library: reading books.

The other lion reads The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (photo by the author)

In celebration of its 125th anniversary, NYPL released a list of 125 titles for adults from the last 125 years developed by librarians across its three-borough system. Patience and Fortitude — the nicknames given to the lions by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930s to boost New Yorkers’ spirits during the Great Depression — have been given their very own copies of two titles from the list: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Beloved by Toni Morrison (who was an NYPL trustee).

The New York Public Library (photo by Jonathan Blanc, courtesy of NYPL)

Patience and Fortitude at the New York Public Library (photo by Jonathan Blanc, courtesy of NYPL)

The addition is particularly exciting because NYPL’s mascots have not always enjoyed the luxury of accessorizing. In December 2013, Patience and Fortitude donned holiday wreaths for the first time since 2004, when a restoration discovered damages to the century-old marble likely caused by adornments. A time-lapse video provided by NYPL, below, shows how the lovable beasts were outfitted with the giant novels, complete with cut-out circles for their paws.

Personally, I would have liked to see Fitzgerald’s book retitled The Great CATsby, but I guess you can’t have it all.

According to an NYPL spokesperson, top 125 lists for kids and teen lists will come out later this year. In the meantime, adults will get the lion’s share.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

One reply on “What Are the New York Public Library Lions Reading? The Great Gatsby and Beloved

  1. The Great Gatsby is indeed a great book but it also embodies the widespread prejudices of the 1920s. It’s anti-Semitic and also racist! It’s also sexist and classist. If you doubt me, give the book a careful read! And that careful read require some historical understanding. The racist and anti-Semitic passages speak to Fitzgerald’s overall purpose which was to portray a decadent society and for him the presence of wealthy blacks and Jewish gangster (for whom Gatsby was fronting) were signs of decadence.

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