Book Review: The Library Book

The Library Book

by Ann Cleeves, Seth Godin, Susan Hill and Tom Holland

In the light of government cutbacks in the UK hitting public libraries across the nation, this collection of “short stories” is primarily a fund-raising project for The Reading Agency, a charity that promotes reading, especially among the young.

The stories are mostly recounts of the influence libraries had on these authors’ lives. They are all well-known writers and entertainers who have contributed, such as Stephen Fry, Julian Barnes, Alan Bennett, and Zadie Smith. And they are all united in their support of British libraries.

I must admit I was slightly disappointed that, although most of the writers are able to speak for their younger selves, they have not succeeded in explaining why libraries are so important TODAY. Only few touch on the social side of libraries, and the necessity of well-trained librarians to help us access all the knowledge there is, either in book form or on the internet.

Having said that, this book is a nice read. It’s cosy, very English and reminds me of my childhood experiences of libraries. The chapters are short, so the book can be dipped into at leisure. (Ideal for a Kindle to put in your handbag/pocket). It made me smile and even laugh at times; Stephen Fry is so clever with words, and Lucy Mangan’s rules for her own library are charming! One of my favourite chapters was a short story by Kate Mosse, where a scary mystery is solved! And another was Susan Hills’s story which included her encounter with E.M. Forster in the  London Library when he dropped a volume of Elizabethan poetry on her foot – a historic moment she will never forget!

One of my own earliest libraray memories:

I can see myself now, waiting at the roadside for the door of the mobile library van to hiss open like magic. I literally have to climb the HUGE steps into the back of the big brown vehicle. My satchel slung over my shoulder clunks against the door on the way up. It’s mostly adults at our stop, so I am left to my own devices… no instructions where to find anything, but although there is not a great deal of choice for a reader of my age,  I still enjoy the rare experience of carrying home one or two books that I have chosen myself. They will be read several times over before they have to be returned…

What are your thoughts on or memories of libraries?