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”

Library Lives

The day after I gathered my previous library pile (see last post), I went to my other local library to have a look at their collection.  The last time I visited was probably sometime during the late 80’s.  A lot had changed, the main theme – as across all libraries – being more space to manoeuvrer, and sadly as a consequence, less book choice.

It’s still incredible value to be able to take out mountains of literature with no cost whatsoever, and although many libraries have closed or at best contracted in recent years, I find myself extremely lucky to be able to source such quality books whenever I wish.

I took a punt on the books left and right (above), as I hadn’t heard of either but wanted to bulk out my pile.  When it came to the Barnes offering, again an author I haven’t read before but one I was at least aware of and have seen several bloggers cover before. Continue reading “Library Lives”

Library Life

The last time I took books out of the library they had those slips in a special pocket inside the front cover where the date of each time the book was taken out could be seen, and frequently was smudged with the ink of the stamp.  A lot has changed since then but my quest for free books remains undiminished.

These days I can have twenty-four books in my possession at any one time, and keep them for a month.  There will be lots more benefits to discover when I get around to it such as ordering specific books from other libraries and other things no doubt, but at the moment I am happy with my first haul, which over two days (and two libraries) came to thirteen books, six of which are in this post.

Although I was surprised not to find more books by staple authors like Charles Dickens, Patrick White, and Jules Verne – all of which I had a hankering to read – and also finding the history sections almost entirely focused on British history, there was nonetheless a good selection to be explored. Continue reading “Library Life”

Playback – Raymond Chandler

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is mixing business with pleasure – he’s getting paid to follow a lovely mysterious redhead called Eleanor King. And wherever Miss King goes, trouble is sure to follow. But she’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told. But one dead body later and what started out as a lazy afternoon’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder.

There are very few series of books with which I feel compelled to collect them specifically based on their covers, but the Philip Marlowe series has such stylish appeal that after reading The Big Sleep, I just had to grab these classy covers before they were reissued.

Reworked from a screenplay – and it shows – written years before, Playback is my least favourite Marlowe novel.  Although tersely written, and straight in with no preamble, I did enjoy the important details picked out by the detectives eye, making for a sparseness of description but one which brings the images given a rich authenticity.

Marlowe is a great character; cynical, intelligent, wary, hard, honest.  He is the greatest strength of the novel, his realist attitude and devotion to what he does allows the reader sympathy with him, despite probably not always agreeing with his life choices. Continue reading “Playback – Raymond Chandler”

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.

The Secret World of Polly Flint – Helen Cresswell

As soon as she arrives in Wellow, Polly Flint knows there is magic in the place. And she should know, because she is an unusual girl who can see things others can’t. She seems to be able to call up a village that had disappeared from the face of the earth – and the people who lived in it, as they slip in and out of time.

Helen Cresswell was a staple of my childhood back in the day, this book, and Moondial were both wonderful and their accompanying TV shows were just as compelling.  Not only did Helen Cresswell  create compelling stories but she was a local author, and set this story in the grounds of Rufford Abbey, a place I last went to last Christmas, and had at least three school trips to, as well.

The story is crammed full with so many wonderful ideas, especially for the minds of children. There is a feeling of history, tradition passed down – the inherent idea of magic that lurks behind so much of it – and of the weight of time and our participation in it.

Time plays a huge part in the book, both as a barrier, and a contributor to the sense of dislocation felt throughout, but also to the passing of days and the rhythm of the seasons. It seems as important for Polly to understand what isn’t there and exists, as it is to interpret what is present and can be seen. Continue reading “The Secret World of Polly Flint – Helen Cresswell”

What Was Lost – Catherine O’ Flynn

A lost little girl with her detective notebook and toy monkey appears on the CCTV screens of the Green Oaks shopping centre, evoking memories of Kate Meaney, missing for twenty years. Kurt, a security guard with a sleep disorder, and Lisa, a disenchanted deputy manager at Your Music, follow glimpses of the girl through the centre’s endless corridors – a welcome change from dealing with awkward customers, colleagues and the Green Oaks mystery shopper. But as this after-hours friendship grows in intensity, it brings new loss and new longing to light.

The first time I read this book I did so in a twelve-hour single sitting, the writing style and the with the all too familiar take on retail, which I spent years in, were both compelling and moving.  What Was Lost is a  gritty and melancholy read with touches of humour that really hit the spot for those looking for a bit of mystery set in an all too familiar locale.

The story itself switches between two different threads, those of Kate Meaney (private investigator), and Kurt and Lisa, set twenty years later.  The story’s strengths lies in the wonderfully well-written characters and the differences in attitude, both in terms of the time periods and the characters within them.

The Green Oaks shopping centre is a character in itself, much like the island in the TV show Lost, it pulls people into it and changes lives.  It’s a monument to the staggering waste of time, heart and effort spent in these places for both workers and shoppers. Continue reading “What Was Lost – Catherine O’ Flynn”