Taglibraries

Borrowing

Photo credit: © Copyright Mark Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
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This building is Huddersfield Central Library. Strictly speaking, it’s not my local library (that would be a branch library, which I’m pleased still tohave); but it is the one I visit most often, and it’s where all my current loans are from. I don’t do that many library posts, but I thought it was a good time to go through what I’ve borrowed and why.
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J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country

I borrowed this because it’s the current monthly read of the NYRB Classics group on Goodreads, which I’d had recommended to me and wanted to join. OK, so the edition I borrowed was a Penguin one, but still… I’ve finished the book now, and rather enjoyed it: it tells of a soldier returned from the First World War, who takes on the job of uncovering a medieval wall-painting in a Yorkshire village church. Carr elegantly carries the theme of uncovering the hidden through to the novella’s relationships, and the whole is rather engaging.

Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet

Another Penguin Modern CIassic, set in a bizarre retirement home. I saw it on the same shelf as the Carr, had never heard of book or author – but it looked interesting. ‘One of the most original, joyful, satisfying and quietly original novels of the twentieth century,’ says Ali Smith on the back cover – sounds worth a read to me.

M. John Harrison, Viriconium

It’s been my intention for some time now to read M. John Harrison, because I never really have. Now I’m going to do it: the Viriconium omnibus first, then the Kefahuci Tract trilogy by next spring – because chances are that Empty Space will be shortlisted for the Clarke next year.

Dorothy Whipple, High Wages

A number of bloggers speak very highly of Persephone Books, who republish ‘neglected classics by C20th (mostly women) writers’ (says their website). I’ve never read one of their volumes myself, so when I saw this in the library, I thought I’d give it a try. The book itself is a very nicely-produced object; and the story – an exploration of retail in 1920s Lancashire – is something I wouldn’t generally go for, so I’ll be interested to see what it’s like.

Banana Yoshimoto, Hardboiled & Hard Luck

Another book I picked up on spec. Yoshimoto was on my list of authors I wanted to read; this double novella was on the shelves; so why not? I mean, that kind of serendipity is one of the great things about libraries, isn’t it?

(Post cross-linked to Library Loot on The Captive Reader.)

Anatomy of a library visit

One of my bookish resolutions this year is to diversify my reading, and there can be few better ways of doing that than going into a library and browsing the shelves. That’s just what I did today, and I thought I’d share the process by which I decided what to borrow. I resolved to limit myself to five titles; but, well, that didn’t quite work out.

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My first thoughts were: Stu is hosting Henry Green Week over at Winstonsdad’s Blog later this month; I’d not heard of Green before, but it would be fun to join in. There are only two Henry Green books on the shelves; I choose the one which my brief research from last night suggests is particularly well-regarded.

Book 1: Loving by Henry Green

I browse the G section further. There’s a book by Niven Govinden, whom I’ve meant to read for a while, but I’m after something older today. Elizabeth Gaskell, perhaps? Not this time. I decide that I want to read something by Iris Murdoch. There are quite a few, but it no difference from my perspective which I choose; I go for one whose title (pardon the pun) rings a bell.

Book 2: The Bell by Iris Murdoch

(Only later does it occur to me that I may have been thinking of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.) Passing the L section, a silver-spined Penguin Modern Classic catches my eye – The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. It sounds interesting and different, but I decide to put it back on the shelf for now. Instead, I go in search of something specific: I have a review copy of a book called Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine, which is about a graduate who uses Stevenson’s novel as a guide to life; I thought it might be a good idea to read the original first, and am lucky enough to find a copy on the shelf opposite where it should be.

Book 3: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I leave the S section, and move on to T; I keep meaning to read Anne Tyler – maybe next time. I look at the last of the fiction shelves and spot a copy of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We; an influence on Nineteen Eighty-Four, says the back cover. I’ve recently read Orwell’s novel, but I don’t feel like trying Zamyatin’s so soon after. How about something by Émile Zola? Not today. Another idea: Kim at Reading Matters is hosting an Australian Literature Month in January, and I don’t think I have any Australian books on the TBR, so why not borrow one now? At this point, my knowledge of Australian authors conveniently escapes me; I read a David Malouf novel a couple of years ago, but let’s see if I can think of someone else… ah, Peter Carey – I’ve never read him. There are four Carey books on the shelves, and I’d prefer one that’s set in Australia, so it’ll be this:

Book 4: My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

One slot left, and I think it should be a classic – something by one of the Brontës, perhaps. Wuthering Heights? Another time. None of the books I can see by Charlotte seem good introductory ones, and that’s all there is… until I spy a novel on the shelf below that appears to fit the bill nicely.

Book 5: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

And those are my five books.

Except… I saw one book earlier which I know I’ll forget if I don’t borrow it now, so I go back and get it.

Book 6: The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Right, that’s definitely it for the library. But then I find a used-book stall in town, and one book there catches my eye. It’s far my usual reading fare, but that’s the whole point of this exercise – and it’s only 50p, and it’ll contribute to the Mixing It Up Challenge, so why not?

Book 7: Arabella by Georgette Heyer

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So there are a few more books which will be sprinkled into my reading over the next few weeks.

(This post is also a contribution this week’s Library Loot.)

Libraries

Today, there has been a series of protests across the country in response to local authorities’ ill thought-out plans to close 400 libraries. I used my local library today, and will take the opportunity now to set out what libraries mean to me.

So many of my earliest reading memories are connected to libraries, whether the village library or various school libraries. As a young child, I was a precocious reader from a not very bookish household in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside. It may not have been the case that they were my only access to books, but libraries were certainly key in making books feel a part of my everyday life.

Libraries are the first places that many of us encounter books, and are significant as places where books and the learning they represent can be decoupled from the idea of schooling — which encourages us to see those things as valuable in their own right, rather than things we are obliged to study. Browsing the shelves of a library offers the potential for the ultimate in serendipity, because if you see an interesting book, you can take a chance on it with no further investment but a little time.

More practically, libraries give everyone free access to books and information, and expert guidance on navigating that information. They are important because they embody a belief that literacy, knowledge, culture, and learning — things both provided and represented by books — have their own intrinsic value, and should be available to all.

Further links
‘Voices for the Library’ website
Guardian blog about the protests

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