Saturday, March 05, 2011

World Book Night and Our Read 2011

When I was 11, in my first year in "big school", we were asked to contribute to an article for the School magazine about what made us happy and what we dreaded. I remember writing (and being thrilled later to see it reproduced in print) that I would be horrified by "a world without books".

Books are the most wonderful things ever created. I owe the biggest debt of my life thus far to Johannes Gutenburg, apparently, here's to you sir!

It doesn't matter how bad life gets, or how good, how dull or exciting, how lonely or full, reading a good book can change my mood and outlook, it can divert and transport me to whole new worlds.

I was an early reader, Mum taught me the rudimentaries of reading before I went to school (at age 4) by making lots of cards bearing the words "door" or "window" for instance and pinning them up around the house. Books were always my favourite presents, birthday or Christmas. I recall reading in bed at night, at around the age of 7 or 8, and my parents would come into my bedroom and tell me that I had to put the light out now and go to sleep. But I could never put the book down, so I would curl a corner of the curtain back and let the street light outside shine into the window and across my pillow, allowing me to carry on reading for at least another hour. (Sorry Mum if you are reading this!).

Never merely "reading", I devour books, in huge chunks, wolfed down with enthusiasm. As a girl I would read Enid Blyton - starting with the Magic Faraway Tree fantasies and moving on to the Famous Five and then to the school stories, Malory Towers and St Clare's. I dont think I ever got into the Secret Seven, but otherwise I was a very enthusiastic supporter of hers.

My Mum loves reading as much as I do, and she delighted that I loved it too, so she always made sure that she kept me supplied with the best of literature, books and poetry. I remember reading the C.S. Lewis Narnia chronicles, and everything from Nina Bawden and Noel Streatfield. I loved the Railway Children and Swallows and Amazons, and I adored poetry. I still have the Child's Compendium of Poetry, wonderful.

Some books were bought for me, but many came from the library, Tamworth Library to be specific. By the time I was 10 years old, I had read every book in the junior library (and it is quite a big library, we are not talking about a couple of dusty shelves in a corner) and Mum went in to ask if I could be upgraded to the adult library. I think from memory they said that I would need to be a teenager before I could "upgrade", but she fought my corner and eventually they allowed me to have an adult library card all of my own. It was a wonderful moment, if ever a coming of age should be celebrated, it was that one.

Now I had racks and racks of shelving to peruse, an endless supply of new material to wile away the hours.

I tore through huge sections very fast, falling in love with Agatha Christie and Catherine Cookson and all sorts of variety (interesting that they both begin with a "C", did I start with the A's and work my way through?)

And so the reading went on... through O Levels and A levels and my degree...

When I was 15, by now living somewhere else (farewell Tamworth library, hello to the much smaller Yarm library) I pulled some strings and managed to be appointed as my school's pupil librarian. I still have my enameled badge "Librarian" which I wore with pride on my school jumper. There was not as much fiction as I might have liked but I learnt a lot about buying books, cataloguing, shelving and then sharing them. It was in my school library that I first learnt about the joys of reference books as well as fiction. We had a very old book,  hidden away in storage, a large book at least 24" high, which had wonderful templates of handpainted birds and butterflies. Sometimes I see such books on Antiques Roadshow and marvel at the prices they raise. To all libraries facing funding cuts under our aggressively cutting coalition LibDem/Tory government I would suggest having a good look round to see if you have anything special you can sell!

One of my first jobs upon leaving school was to spend two years working in the library at Teesside Polytechnic, when the world of journals and periodicals, non-fiction and reference, as well as fiction and classic literature really opened up and I started reading things from other countries and other centuries.

Today I am still an active library user - mainly Allerton Library now, the most used library in Liverpool apparently, and I hold a surgery twice a month in Kensington Library where I often take a few minutes to take a book out while I am in there. And between Yarm and Allerton, I have held library cards in Thornaby, Stockton, Norton and Meltham libraries, all of which were marvellous and magnificent resources.

I am also, like so many others, a member of a book group. My book group is "The Reading Room" and our deliberations are published online on KVFM. Last month we read "We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, and this month it is "Animal Farm" by George Orwell, tune in!

Like my mum before me, I want to encourage others to read and have bought books for my nephews, niece and many of my friends' children, reading is the skill that keeps on giving and an ideal way to idle away the hours.

And I could go on, ad naseum about my reading discoveries, wonderful authors, books that mark the milestones in my life and changed the way I see the world, but I won't, because this entry will turn into a book in its own right!

So, onto World Book Day, World Book Night and Our Read 2011.

On Thursday, on World Book Day, the lovely librarian Joan in Kensington library gave me a free copy of "The Unforgotten Coat" by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This book has been written by Frank, for free distribution, as part of Our Read 20ll.  I read it last night, a fascinating read, aimed at teenagers, about two boys from Mongolia escaping to live as Asylum Seekers in Liverpool. Do look out for your copy, it is not just great reading, but also influential and informative and potentially a tool to tackle hate crime. I heartily recommend it and I wont spoil the plot for you by talking about, but it is beautifully written and illustrated.

And tonight, is World Book Night where across the UK, one million books are being given away free, to people all over the country in different venues, in cafes, on railway stations, in pubs and shops, at football matches and in parks, everywhere. There is lots more about it here but essentially these 25 particularly good reads are being given away by an army of volunteers to encourage more people to get into reading and to share books that they like with each other.

Well done to the publishers and the libraries and the book stores and everyone who has made this possible, well done to the volunteers who are giving the books away and the BBC for dedicating a whole evening of BBC2 to this topic tonight. I'm watching and later I shall be going to bed with one of their recommended titles.

So, if someone gives you a free book tonight, quite out of the blue, do take the time to read it, enjoy and then pass it on!


Gerard said...

Another posting from me - its becoming like buses! I couldn't help but chip in on this one. Anyone who knows me well will know i'm something of a bibliophile.

Like yourself, I started on Blyton when I was about 7, specifically the Magic Faraway Tree. 'Moonface' was (and I blanche at this) to become the imaginary friend most kids have. I wonder if in these pages I can find the origins of the healthy imagination I have. The character of Fatty and the Mystery adventures instantly bring back nights in bed with a touchlight, so that my parents wouldn't catch me awake after bedtime.

The very first library I joined was Croxteth (with can now be found in the Communiversity in the Page Moss area). I used to go after secondary school to Central Library, sometimes to study in the Picton, and I actually used the public records office to research the history of West Derby at the age of 12 (!).

I did my work experience prior to GCSEs at Larkhill Library as an assistant, and I would have gladly entered it as a career.

The number of libraries I have subsequently joined are as long as yours. English lit was always my strongest subject, and I subsequently went on to read the subject at Aberystwyth Uni. (My readers card for the National Library of Wales is still valid until 2012). Aber is a bibliophiles dream, as it reportedly has more books per person than anywhere else in the world. (This not being the case, it must be up there with the best of them).

Fave authors? Graham Greene, Kazuo Ishiguro & Graham Swift.

I'll be keeping an eye on the public consultations in regards to this fabulous service. But I will certainly look forward to the refurbished Central Library, where I spent many many happy hours when I was younger.

Louise Baldock said...

People will talk!

I have got a City and Guilds in Library-ness, don't know if I remembered to say that, and I have been known to do a bit of shelving when I am in my surgery and it is quiet.

I dont think there is anything wrong with Moonface being your imaginary friend, he was probably that for thousands of kids. I used to play with imaginary fairies, not sure if they lived up the Faraway Tree but I expect they were distantly related. (Cue the obvious joke about them not being quite so imaginary these days, yeah, I know....)

Nice reading with you!

Gerard said...

Oddly enough my Uni did specialise in Library studies, or whatever title it holds.
As to playing with fairies...I couldn't possibly comment!
(Depends on how much absinthe, I suppose).

I'm at pains to point out at the age of 25, I no longer have an imaginary friend. This catharsis is turning into surrealism now!