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. Continue reading “The Library Book”

Volume Up

Whilst wandering around the local shops, I couldn’t resist perusing the book titles in the charity shop – just to look of course, not to buy.  Unsurprisingly I came out about five minutes later with four books, and over 2000 pages worth of words, for the princely sum of £1.90.  With that quality bit of business done, I am now able to enjoy more fine literature on the bus to and from work.

I haven’t really dabbled too much in author correspondence before so this will be a pleasant departure from my usual tastes.  I am also anticipating The Forsyte Saga to have the same impact as Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series, which I absolutely adored.

All being well I shall be around all of your lovely blogs at the weekend, apologies for the long delay, I think i finally have my blog mojo back.

Old Habits…

After spending half a week face deep in a manuscript, a wander into Derbyshire was much called for yesterday.  Inevitably, it was hard to avoid the second hand bookshops, and after going in ‘just to look’, it would have been rude to leave without buying anything.  So I did.

In my defence – as if one were needed – a couple of fine book were unearthed.  Having read, and loved I, Claudius last year it was a pleasant surprise to bump into the sequel in almost mint condition, and as an added bonus with the same cover style as its companion book.

The Dostoyevsky was again close to mint condition and as it’s been a while since I had read anything by him (and the price was right) it made sense to not only indulge again but actually plan write a review for the blog when I’m done reading, as I seem to have missed reviewing all three books previously read by the author.

Now I just have to find the time to get into them as I am taking on a new quest, as well as the usual, but more of that in a week or two.

Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.

This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s Schizophrenia.  This, his final and favourite novel is certainly a mixed bag but well worth picking up.

The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them.  The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.

There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them.  In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.

“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.” Continue reading “Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

Duly Noted

Picking up my – then – latest read, Alberto Manguel’s A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books, it soon became clear that I needed a new notebook to scrawl my thoughts in, such were the number.  Thankfully the missus had just such a book ready for me, she knows my needs.

After the mini trauma of filling my last notebook it feels good to be able to be expansive again, as opposed to clumsily noting down phrases on a phone whose keyboard is ill suited to my fat fingers.  Sadly, the joy of writing is one often marginalised in the modern technology orientated world.

Enjoying the pristine whiteness of the pages, there was just one thing I had to do first, before inking any of them.  On the inside front cover the words ‘I have a dream’ were printed, so below them I added ‘this book belongs to Martin Luther King, Jr.’.

Hilarity thus achieved I left the first page – I always allow myself this small luxury in case appropriate words come to mind to place there – and the second became the start of my copious note taking.

Ploughing through book lover Manguel’s words with a happy heart, I’ve already made  a page of notes, some of which will probably be left out of the review for another post – or several –  musing on books.  With twenty-two drafts started just this morning, words are begetting words in the best possible way.

A Pound of Paper – John Baxter

In rural Australia of the fifties where John Baxter grew up, reading books was regarded with suspicion; owning and collecting them with utter incomprehension. Despite this, by the age of eleven Baxter had ‘collected’ his first book The Poems of Rupert Brooke.  He’d read it often, but now he had to own it.  This modest purchase marked the beginning of an obsession that would take him all over the world…

This is the book to devour. It has inspired my many forays into mass purchasing, the impact of which had waned somewhat, but has now thankfully been reinforced on rereading this.  A Pound of Paper, is not only a call to read, but to read widely; to gather, and appreciate the book as a whole, not just for the words therein.

It’s always a delight to discover how a fellow reader started, and carried on their journey. Details of their collection, and their escalation is both an encouragement  – as if any were needed – and pure literary porn. This reader ate up Baxter’s enthusiastic retelling of his adventures, which range between  comic and cringe with alarming regularity.

One of the best things about A Pound of Paper is the forays into, and finding beauty within, the obscure, even the badly written.  There is an element of snobbery here, one could argue, but it doesn’t spoil anything, and I for one enjoy the jaunt into the arcane passageways of literature that I would have  otherwise missed. Continue reading “A Pound of Paper – John Baxter”

Books, Again

After the good news of last post, Crissy’s anniversary gift to me was to let me run rampant in a bookshop.  This excitement was slightly sullied as half of the shop was blocked off due to cleaning so I couldn’t get to the science section, amongst others. The history section was disappointingly lacking too.

Rallying, I did manage to pick up three books, and went to a coffee shop, pleasingly empty, to review my new purchases.  Supping a hot Mocha, and trying not to gag at the stupidly powerful smelling cheese meal the woman half the café away was eating, it was with great pleasure that I slowly peeled back the plastic bag to review the new reads.

Having read The Great Gatsby all the way back in sixth form, and being reminded of the pleasure I had from that book by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie.  I fancied reading more by F. Scott Fitzgerald so Now The Beautiful and Damned can take its place on the unread shelf next to Tender is the Night, which I also picked up a while back for the same reason. Continue reading “Books, Again”