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”

Opening the Door

With five weeks of training completed at the Open University – the main reason for my sparse posting of late – I can finally turn my attention to showcasing all the awesome free stuff that you can get your hands on courtesy of the O.U..  This week it’s something mentioned previously on this blog and frequently engages me through on my breaks and before work starts.

Where I work, one part of the Edifice that is the Open University.

OpenLearn  is a resource I had spent a bit of time with before I started this job and now I recommend it to everyone.  The site offers courses, downloads, videos, and up coming programmes with the BBC.  Each course is an extract from our degree modules, and with almost 1000 samples here you can indulge in many various learning exercises.

There are courses for everyone over such varied fields as Languages, Nature & Environment , Money & Business, and my personal favourite History & the Arts, which has plenty of literary goodness but never fails to entertain with a speculative punt either.

The first course I took was Aberdulais Falls: A Case Study in Welsh Heritage. I had never previously considered the logistics of how the National Trust runs its sites and the impact on the local community, and I finished thoroughly entertained and educated on the subject.  Since then anything goes in terms of course choice now. Continue reading “Opening the Door”

Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow

Mary Anne’s story is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because she was searching for the same things many of us search for: love, understanding and purpose; and extraordinary because she had to go through hell to find them.

Her life was turbulent. Born in a decaying northern town to a dysfunctional family in the 1960s, Mary Anne had to endure mental, physical, and sexual abuse and cope with the devastating effects of parental alcoholism and suicide. She had her self-esteem and confidence crushed by two disastrous marriages, and she lives with the emotional and physical scars caused by a surgical procedure which has become the medical scandal of our age: mesh implants. But, despite everything, she always remained determined to endure and to find something better.

It’s not often I get to post about a book on the day of its release but it’s always nice to be able to do so and feel like I am a bit special.

From the very beginning the reader will find this memoir to be an unflinching and brutally honest read.  Within the pages of TGoaN you will find a range of instances of abuse, both physical and mental, it’s a relentless and a challenging read.

At the heart of the book is one woman’s attempt to make sense of events, and of the motivations for said events. The repetitive cycles of cruelty and abuse, endemic both inside and outside the family, and worst of all having this dismissed by others, or feeling so sidelined that Willow felt she couldn’t approach those in authority. Continue reading “The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow”

A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”

Murdering Books

There exists in my house a shelf which I call The Bookshelf of Guilt.  It’s reserved for all those really thick tomes that I usually avoid, not because I don’t want to read them but because they are so Big.  It’s easy to spend years shying away from these massive books that sit judging you every time you pick a ‘normal’ sized book.

Reason suggests that reading shorter books will allow you to experience more now, and will also mean more time to read the longer books ‘sometime later on’.  Let’s be honest it won’t happen, with that reasoning.

I set myself a goal to read one such big book a year, mainly because people gravitate to the largest book on a shelf and without fail ask if I have read it.  That was half the reason I got around to reading War and Peace. Choosing this time was fairly easy. The Brothers Karamazov, and The Mysteries of Paris were in the early running, to name but two but I finally I narrowed it down to a couple of philosophy books in the end.

After so many recent fiction reads it seemed sensible to mix things up a bit. My next read was chosen from the non fiction pile, and finally came down to either: Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy or Diarmaid MacCulloch’s A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Continue reading “Murdering Books”

Bringing Book the Good Times

I’m finally back from a wonderful Christmas and New Year in England, and after fighting through the obligatory jet lag, as well as other demands, I finally find time to catch you up on things.

The most important being the books I managed to haul back over with me, which is a veritable, eclectic feast of words, split nicely between books to reread and new tomes to explore…

Continue reading “Bringing Book the Good Times”