Thursday, 26 July 2012

Love your library

One of the first tips for any would-be writer is to read. Read your chosen genre, read around your chosen genre, read widely, read voraciously, read greedily. Reading is one aspect of the writing game I have sorted. Not the way I used to; a job, a child, a social life (child's not mine, are you crazy?) and the aforementioned writing-lark mean that reading is something usually done before bed. Or while I'm cooking dinner. Or while child is at rehearsals/swimming/gymnastics/parties. Or when I dice with kindle death and read in the bath. Or because the sun's out. Or I have a cold.

I was shiny when I was 16!

Legend has it that I taught myself to read when I was just two. There may be some parental exaggerating in this but it's true that I don't remember learning to read and my school had me marked down as a problem child the first day of reception not just because I was *shock* the only child with divorced parents who *shock* couldn't afford school uniform and *shock* was on free school dinners but worse - Much Worse -'What are we going to do with her?' they whispered. 'That child can read...'
I read at other children's parties, under the covers at night with a torch, under my desk, at the table.

And when I wasn't reading I was making up stories in my head. I still do, only now I call them 'plots' and sometimes I even write them down.

As a child the library was my favourite place, my safe place. A whole room filled with books that I could read. I could try new things, rediscover authors, reread old favourites. I loved the slightly musty smell, the hush, the serious look as people browsed the shelves and that flash of delight as they found just what they were looking for.

I belonged to the library in every place I lived including my university city Glastonbury, Connecticut where I au-paired for a year. The American library had vast quantities of cosy crime and regency romance which I borrowed in huge armfuls to the horror of my employer who steered me towards the literary works on his bookshelves. That was okay too, I always did like to mix up my reading diet. This week alone I have read Sarah Morgan, Miranda Dickinson, Jasper Fforde and Henning Makell; category romance, chick lit, speculative fantasy and Nordic Crime.

Childrens, hard backs and classics. Not alphabeticised in vain attempt to seem less anal... there is a similar amount of fiction; category, some YA, the entire Agatha Christie & tbr mountains are all upstairs

Now I don't use the library in the same way. The years I worked as a bookseller I had a good discount and access to a lot of proofs and I got into the habit of owning and accumulating books; a habit my kindle has made a lot worse. There are 273 items in my kindle library after 20 months - and I don't download free books. I use my local library for the cafe, the wifi and the coffee and to try and find that book that will kindle my daughter's interest in reading. A book that so far remains elusive. Although in the dark times of redundancy the library was once again a place of comfort, of refuge. An escape.

Like many libraries the ones near me are changing, evolving. They are now called 'Explore Centres', there are less staff and more machines, less actual books and more computers, cafes and wifi, noise seems to be encouraged and children shout at whim (not mine; she may not be a reader but she has respect for the books). Sometimes this saddens me when I look at the space on the shelves and try and block out the noise, sometimes I applaud the innovation; an old failing building in my local park has become a 'reading cafe', a mixture of afternoon tea and books linked to the library system. Cake and stories and trees, what's not to love?

But as I hear of more and more libraries closing, shrinking, replacing professionals with volunteers, cutting, cutting, cutting I think of all the kids who may not have access to books at home for so many reasons, children who need libraries to flourish, to learn, to grow. Of me as a child, as a student, as an adult whose job disappeared and with it all security and freedom. Libraries are not a luxury, they are an essential. And we need to fight for them.

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