Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Death of the Library?

On Monday night BBC1’s The One Show screened an interesting report on the closure of a library in Barnet, North London. As most people are aware this is far from the first local library to close and many people are heralding library closures as being symptomatic of our times and the loss of literacy among our children.

But the people of Barnet are fighting back with a “community library” run by the local people and which relies on the honesty of the clientele to return the books (much like any other library I would have thought). But does the closure of libraries really symbolise a lost love of reading?

As a child I spent many hours in my local library (I just performed a quick Google search and yes, it is still open!) and our weekly trip to town on a Saturday always ended in a visit to the main branch of the Preston library service. As an 8-year old I completed the reading challenge run by our library service in which you had to read books from the list of eligible titles and then answer questions posed by a librarian to check you had read the whole thing. Completing the challenge meant reading over a hundred books and the usual starting age was eight. So maybe I spent more time than most in a library as a child but even my usage of the service has tailed off.

I feel that this is not due to a lost love of reading (although my prolific habit was put on hold while I was at university) but mostly due to the widespread availability of cheap books and maybe slightly to a tendency towards laziness. Sites like Amazon make it very easy to quickly find the book you’re after without having to trawl through multiple shelves and titles which hold no interest (this is the laziness factor) but are also cheaper than most high street stores. In addition to this in London I live very close to a well-stocked branch of Oxfam and another charity shop which have provided many of my reading choices as well as taking the titles I didn’t enjoy off my hands (guess where my Austen ended up?!).

Annnd I work close to two shops on Euston Road who sell all of their books for £2. Two pounds!! So I don’t often feel the need to visit a library and as a result I have made very little use of my nearest service.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned which is probably also having an effect on our library services is the rise of e-readers such as the Kindle. These machines may negate the need for printed literature which I agree can be heavy and bulky to carry around but I for one will never use one however many free titles it comes with. I like the variability of books – the different sizes, colours and fonts and there is nothing as exciting to me as getting a new book and holding it in your hands waiting for the story to unfold. To me an e-reader lacks soul and really does detract from the reading experience.

But let’s end this on a real positive: Book Swaps for London is a campaign which is aiming to establish a book sharing scheme across London by providing shelves in tube and train stations where travellers can pick up a free book and drop off any they’ve finished with. A library service for the commuter network if you will.

The team currently have seven swaps up and running and are working towards London domination. So if this sort of scheme can flourish are we really becoming a nation of illiterates? I certainly hope not and I like to think that although the demise of the library is very sad it may not necessarily be the death knell we all think it is.

My first library. And on a sunny day too!

The problem with Austen

A colleague recently said to me “You can’t really live in the UK for too long without reading Pride & Prejudice, can you?” But I have to say I never have. Nor have I seen any of the adaptations. Nor (to the surprise of said colleague) do I have any desire to do so.

Until moving to London and starting this challenge I’d not read much that was written before the mid-20th century (apart from children’s books, I have a real soft spot for old-fashioned children’s tales – think, The Secret Garden and The Railway Children). But the list demands it so I started looking at Austen and the Brontës etc.

I started with Wuthering Heights which was a really good read and I read Jane Eyre which I enjoyed ever so much and so at last I turned to Austen. Since I’d vowed against reading P&P I decided to start with Emma which I managed to find cheap in my local Oxfam and promised me laughs and drama aplenty. To quote royalty: I was not amused.

What really bugs me about Austen’s novels (based on this limited reading and what I know of the plotlines to her other novels) is this: nothing happens.

That may seem a little strong but as far as I can see all most of her characters do is sit around at each other’s houses taking tea and worrying about who they’re going to marry. In Jane Eyre, there is a mad wife who continually tries to murder our hero and in Wuthering Heights, a ghost roams the moors and the ‘hero’ is an unlikeable thug. Jane Austen was writing at approximately the same time as the Brontës so why is it that her plotlines are so lacking (yet her novels so much longer)?

Perhaps it was just that the Brontës were a more dramatic family but Charles Dickens was writing at the same time and his novels are famously full of twists and turns. I have separate issues with Dickens due to the minute level in which he describes everything but I can’t deny the fact that his tales are far from dull.

So I may struggle through P&P when I get towards the end of the list but I don’t think Jane and I are destined to be friends.

The list in full

So here is the list and my progress as it stands:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien – read (yes because of the films)

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman – read pre-London

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams – read last month

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling – read as soon as it was released!

6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – read several times, I studied it as part of my English GCSE (high school exams)

7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne – read dozens of times

8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell  – read on the tube

9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis  – read as a child

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë – read on the tube

11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë – read on the tube

13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks

14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame  – read as a child

17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott – read pre-London

19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling – read pre-London

23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling  – read pre-London

24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling  – read pre-London (my favourite of the series)

25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien – read pre-London

26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

27. Middlemarch, George Eliot

28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving

29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck

30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll – read as a child

31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson – read as a child

32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett

34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl – read many times as a child

36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute

38. Persuasion, Jane Austen

39. Dune, Frank Herbert

40. Emma, Jane Austen – read on the tube

41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery – read as a child

42. Watership Down, Richard Adams – read several times as a child

43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

46. Animal Farm, George Orwell – read on the tube

47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian – read as a child

50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett – read several times as a child

52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck – read on the tube

53. The Stand, Stephen King

54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

56. The BFG, Roald Dahl – read many times as a child

57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome

58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell – read many, many, many times as a child

59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman

62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden – read pre-London

63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough

65. Mort, Terry Pratchett

66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton

67. The Magus, John Fowles

68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding – read on the tube

71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind – read pre-London

72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell

73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

74. Matilda, Roald Dahl – read many times as a child

75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding – read pre-London

76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins

78. Ulysses, James Joyce

79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens – started but never finished

80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson

81. The Twits, Roald Dahl – read as a child

82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

83. Holes, Louis Sachar

84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson

87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley – read on the tube

88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

89. Magician, Raymond E Feist

90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac

91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel – read on the tube

93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett

94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

95. Katherine, Anya Seton

96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer

97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson – read as a child

99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Which gives me a grand total of 37/100. Better than the BBC predicted but nowhere near good enough! So welcome to this blog which will cover my attempt to reach 100/100 as well as all the other book related thoughts I have along the way.

The list that started it all

Despite having been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, the last few years have been relatively book-free for me (unless you count textbooks which rarely make it on to anyone’s “must-read” list). This is mostly because I simply didn’t have time while I was at university and whenever I did try reading something that wasn’t a textbook, I always felt guilty and usually gave up after a few pages. Which is probably why I find the time on the tube so precious, it’s a guilt-free hour where I can’t be doing any work so I can indulge my first great passion.

I moved to London determined to read some great classics with this free time but this is the post that really got me going: https://apps.facebook.com/booklistchallenge/List/?l=1.

For the non-Facebookites amongst you the list can be found in its original setting here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml.

Now I am a big fan of lists. Give me a challenge in list form and I will do my danmndest to complete it. (I was once given a birthday card with the London tube lines listed and the challenge to tick them all off before my next birthday. I had to take a day off work to do so but you can be sure that I ticked all those little boxes within six months.)

So taking this list as my guide I set off into the world of classic fiction, hunting through charity shops and the bargain book shops of Euston Road (£2 for any book!!) to sniff out a deal.

I started well but I have to say that recently I’ve been drawn to the new fiction and have let myself get a little bit off-list but as long as I’m reading, I’m happy! (As long as I’m not reading Jane Austen that is but more about her later.)