The Library Book

Whether brand new or steeped in history, real or imagined, libraries feature in everyone’s lives.  In memoirs, essays and stories that are funny, moving, visionary or insightful, twenty-three famous writers celebrate these places where minds open and the world expands.

Public libraries are lifelines, to practical information as well as to the imagination, but funding is under threat all over the country.  This book is published in support of libraries, with all royalties going to The Reading Agency’s library programmes.

Fetishes, a (natural) death, streakers, and the occasional ram raid by an old lady on a mobility scooter, libraries can sometimes be dramatic places to work, although in the main, peaceful citadels of book worship.  The Library Book, is a celebration of our best free institution, long may it continue.

As books of this nature usually are, this tome ends up being a mixed bag, my favourite essays were the personal reminiscences of libraries from writers such as, Susan Hill, Stephen Fry, Hardeep Singh Kohli, and Val McDermid, to name a few. Even so, many of these memories take on a similar vein and as such are probably best enjoyed over a lengthier time than the two days in which I flew through this book.

The insights featured are mainly focused on British libraries, which makes it as much of a nostalgia trip, as it is a quirky insight into our national character. There are plenty of interesting facts on offer too, for example, during World War Two, a disused tube station in Bethnal Green was turned into a library during the blitz so people could distract themselves with a good book.  Perhaps surprisingly the readers were most interested in Plato’s Republic, Burton’s the Anatomy of Melancholy, as well as Schopenhauer, Bunyan, and Bertrand Russell.

The occasional fiction extract didn’t interest me as much as it would have done in a compendium of such works, but this was made up for by Tom Holland’s reference (unsurprisingly) to Borges’ The Library of Babel, and his brief history of the libraries in antiquity.

It will, again, come as no surprise that a book featuring a segment from bass player and writer, Nicky Wire, from the Manic Street Preachers, would have the lyric ‘Libraries gave us power’ from the excellent some A Design for Life.  It is perhaps telling that there is so much pressure from those in government to close these wonderful places whilst the general public are willing to fight for them.

Speculations on the future of libraries was interesting but as a die-hard book lover, I long for the days of a building full of books, and books only.  Such is my wish for choice, but also for misty-eyed reasons too.

With our libraries under threat from politicians who have enough money to have never needed to use a library, it’s abundantly clear that they don’t understand the life changing power of books, how they equalise society – perhaps they do understand that bit – and can educate where schools can fail thanks to their bloated and rushed curriculums.

The ability to travel where the written word takes the reader, on adventures experienced singularly despite being read by many, the unique journey each one of us experiences with our tapestry of books is one of the best things about reading. The Library Book is an above average read but it will encourage any reader to visit their library and read (even) more vociferously.

42 Replies to “The Library Book”

  1. If one is not a reader, he or she can’t appreciate any kind of book. Public libraries here sorely lack reading materials. Some places don’t even have one.

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    1. I really wanted to join a library but couldn’t find one, the closest was La Salle University but I would have needed a lot of paperwork to gain access. Books elevate a nation and build education standards, they really should get higher priority instead of being an easy target for budget cutting.

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      1. That’s so true. We have a local library here in our town and I love it but I don’t bring home books, I just stay to browse.

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      2. We have a library at the University of Santo Tomas where I studied, It’s a whole building with different sections and they even have those rare books. I was a student librarian there.

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  2. I’ve shared this on my public FB page. We need libraries! They are so much more than a place for checking out books. I spent an afternoon at mine recently doing research on memoir blurbs and noticed the wealth of information available, all free. Use of computers, photocopiers, a message board full of local events/groups/support, including but not limited to, mental health signposting. Music, audio-books, reading areas, story-time for children, upcoming events for our local literary festival…did my heart proud to see all that. Taking my children to the library when little was a lifeline for me, new to my community. They got to hear great stories, enjoy activities in the summer holidays and I made new friends with other mums. Not to mention my experiences as a child…and the mobile library. That’s a whole other story! Win-win. Thank you for your fab review, as always, Ste J, and for bringing this wonderful book to our attention.

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    1. Thank you for sharing, that has made my day! Libraries are really underrated. I have had my eyes opened to them since I came back. I’m looking to investigating more, and availing myself of the free stuff.

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      1. My pleasure, I’m as enthusiastic about libraries as you are and I always love your excellent reviews. Enjoy your investigations, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of good free stuff!

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    1. I like libraries in fiction but it didn’t really fit in with the tone of the book. I’m sure they couldn’t have been short on authors who had things to say about libraries, or even us common folk who use libraries, we have lots to say too!

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  3. Wow! I can’t imagine politicians actively trying to legislate to get rid of libraries. Here they neglect them, and perhaps pursue budget cuts in favor of military spending and etc. frivolities, but they wouldn’t dare suggest cutting out libraries. There’s a new trend here, I can’t remember if I’ve told you about it or not, it’s called “little free libraries.” The gist of it is, you build a large-size boxlike structure in your front yard (or some have it actually in a room in their house, with special hours, but that takes real devotion). In it, you put good books that you wouldn’t mind giving to others. They come with their exchanges of books they wouldn’t mind sharing out, and make the switch. Everyone does this with these little free libraries,it’s sort of a free (and somewhat iconoclastic) means of sharing knowledge. For some reason, I think I’ve mentioned it to you before. I’m really getting older, I’m starting to repeat myself.

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    1. You have mentioned it, I like the idea not only for the community of it but I think its important that the government doesn’t track what you read. That’s why I usually pay for books with cash because its none of their business. The government here would love to close them, ever since the recession its been even more of a fight than usual to keep them open.

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    1. It would be horrible to not be able to access information for free, and to be unable to explore the wonder of literature gratis. For all the taxes we pay, we should expect to have something that is actually worthwhile, at least occasionally!

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  4. I may not read “The Library Book”, but I will & do go to the library. I love being in the place, sitting and reading, or just writing stupid poetry in there.
    LOL, my fave is the kids branch near me. It has the biggest and best skylight to dwell under!

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    1. Ooo, a skylight, they are underrated! The place itself is a wonderful building to exist in. Reading and writing surrounded by books is the best experience.

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    1. Agreed. I went to the library this morning to get all my books renewed, as well as picking up two more (it could have been ten more). I can’t seem to get enough of the place of late.

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  5. Hurray for libraries. I’ve always been a regular and for several years now a volunteer. In the US, the libraries have become havens for the homeless. And books tend to take second place to computers. Still, there’s nothing like wandering through the stacks.

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    1. There really are so many computers, wandering past its just people watching YouTube as well. I find it weird as I clutch great literature in my hands that people come to a library, primarily associated with books and ignore them. I love the surprise of scouring familiar stacks and finding a new book to read.

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  6. I was at the Library of Congress today. Just amazing! The stacks extend several flights up. The largest collection on the planet. What a pleasure. The building(s) is palatial.

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  7. As someone who works in a library, this book is important because it’s insightful for the public to know one of their cherished public gathering places, the archives of boundless information and knowledge, could be in danger. Even in the changing times, people love libraries. I’m sure that if it came to (which I believe it may in the not so far away future) people will fight for these places.

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    1. Lots of small communities are fighting over here, some rely on a mobile library and even then have to travel to other towns to catch it. Libraries give so much and I love wandering through them, picking up amazing books or seeing books I’ve read and feeling happy that someone else will get to discover a real gem, and all for free!

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          1. Yes. Bookshops are also quite nice. Unfortunately, there tends to not many little, intimate bookshops where I live (much to my dismay), mostly just the normal commercial ones (which I don’t mind either.)

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            1. You can’t beat a good independent bookshop where those lesser known titles are floating about. I share your pain in that regard. The nearest independent bookshop is twenty miles away. It has some good obscure works in though so I will have to get there when money permits.

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              1. I need to go to explore where my closest bookshop may be. As far as I know, there aren’t any close by that I’ve heard about. But I wouldn’t mind driving a bit for the experience and to bring some new friends home with me.

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                1. There are always new friends in literature, and if not in books, there’s always an actual reader to make the acquaintance of. Although I usually much prefer the books.

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