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?

28 thoughts on “Book Review: The Library Book

  1. I think a love for reading is so enriching and it lasts a lifetime…I’m glad books played an important
    in your life. It shows…Books were a big part of my life as a child as well…they are a gift that keeps giving.
    I think a lot of younger people are losing that love of books and it is a shame.

    • You are absolutely right, Strawberryindigo. I used to give my students an assignment to read a novel in English in the summer holidays and present it to class in the autumn term… many found it daunting, but they all did it, and loved it!

  2. The library club from my small-town high school visited a large university library when I was in the tenth grade. Our librarian especially wanted us to see the vast card catalog that held over a million cards at the time and I was duly impressed.

    • What a lovely experience! The library where I studied was not particularly large, but I loved it. It was warm, with cosy corners where I could work undisturbed.The peace of a library is something special.

  3. My father took me to the library for the first time but to prove I was really worthy of such a prized entry to the adult world I had to read my first “non-picture” book. It was “Coral Island” by R. M. Ballantyne, I still adore that story.

    • I think it’s wonderful to have such positive memories of reading. In school we were allowed to read if we finished our tasks early – there were only a few books to choose from, and I read most of them at least twice!

    • As it’s short chapters I think it would go down well in a book group; something for everyone, and it’s a fun and easy read. There’s a lot to discuss in it, with all the different styles too. 😀

  4. Like Claire, I hadn’t heard about this book – will look out for it now. Our local library isn’t big, but has a great children’s section and organises activities for younger readers to encourage them to come in and use the library – we’re very lucky to have it.

    • Glad you still have a library Sarah. And that the children are given encouragement to read too. I think every library ought to have a couple of editions of this story collection!

  5. Our libraries are fairly healthy where I live. The local communities pay for the libraries with agreed upon tax increases. The bookstores are closing so libraries are giving us access to books and fellowship.

  6. The libraries at the University of Texas in Austin have millions of books and other items. A couple of decades ago I spent months of my life browsing the shelves to see what interesting things I could find, and I found plenty.

    As a child in the suburbs of New York, I grew up in a house that had literally thousands of books, so it was like living in a library. As a teenager I would ride my bike three miles to the Salvation Army thrift store, where I could buy books of my own at low prices.

    Recently we’ve been using the Austin public libraries to take out DVDs of feature films as well as documentaries. In the DVD player now: an eight-part series on the lives of Robert and Clara Schumann.

    • You were extremely lucky to have so many books in your home as a child. We relied on the libraries mostly, but nowadays I buy or borrow most of the books I read. Times have changed! And an interesting point that libraries of course do not only lend books! Thanks for your comment Steve.

  7. Have been a regular library user for many years Cathy. I still remember the excitement of exchanging my child’s ticket for an adult ticket at the grand age of seven – this meant that I could borrow even more books 🙂 I still visit my local library regularly to borrow books and use other facilities. Our library has fortunately not been hit too severely by the cuts and runs a number of community activities including a dementia cafe. I’m putting in a little bit back in now by being a ‘Books On Wheels’ volunteer – selecting books monthly for housebound readers. The books sounds a good read – thanks for the suggestion.

  8. As a child, the library was one of my favorite places, it was a beautiful, old building with bookcases that seemed to reach the sky. I could travel to another country or back in time, solve a mystery-all without leaving the building! For me, it was a window to the world! I have been slow to adjust to iBooks on my iPad, I like the feel of the book in my hands! Great post!

    • Wonderful memories awakened! I also love to have a real book in my hands, and nothing will ever replace that, but I was given a Kindle just before flying to the UK last Christmas and found it so light and handy for the journey and while away from home.

  9. I love libraries and one of my best memories is when our English teacher in the 5th Grade challenged us to read more. The reward for the person who read the most books would be “a book.” I read over 100 library books that year and was declared the winner.

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