Sorry for yet another nostalgic post! I seem to be harking back to the 70’s a lot lately, but reading a post on Baroque in Hackney (a great blog if you like poetry and books) on libraries shutting, got me thinking about how much the local library meant to me as I was growing up.
As a child I read all the time and still do now if I get the chance. I started with Enid Blyton and worked my way through all the children’s classics, What Katy Did, Black Beauty, Ballet Shoes, Little Women etc etc, you name it I read it. I devoured whole series’s of my favourite authors, unable to put them down, moving onto the next one at break neck speed, almost as if I was afraid they would suddenly go out of print and I would never be able to find out if Beth got better, or Jo wrote her book.
Some of the books were handed down from my Grandmother and Mum and contained lovely brithday/school prize giving messages in the front, and some of them were bought specifically for me, for birthdays or special events. It was rare to buy a book for no particular reason and there was no way my parents would have funded my book a week habit.
So from an early age my best friend and I would take ourselves off to the library on a Saturday afternoon to stock up on books to see us through the week. It was somewhat of an adventure, involving much dawdling and discussion of what we had been reading, and looking back on it, was the childhood version of a book club – only without the wine!
We spent hours in the library trawling though the children’s section and working our way through different authors. When we eventually outgrew the children’s books and graduated onto the adult section, we had no-one advising us or making suggestions and were uninhibited in our choices. We devoured Harold Robbins alongside Emily Bronte and Margaret Mitchell. The world was our literary oyster!
We were on a journey of discovery and in the days when parents and children didn’t talk openly about sex, drugs and rock and roll, books taught all we did and didn’t need to know about the big bad world we were about to enter. We read every book until the end, passing no judgement on the quality of the writing, we either liked it or we didn’t and moved onto the next one. The library allowed us to make mistakes and experiment without anyones influence.
Todays children are actively encouraged to read and parents go out of their way to help them chose interesting, age appropriate books, but I wonder if they are left alone to make their own choices quite as much as we did. As parents we are keen to do the best for our children, but often reading can get caught up in the education process, meaning children can sometimes fail to see the pleasure in settling down with a good book.
I still love libraries, I love their fusty smell and the fact lots of people before me may have enjoyed a treasured book, as will many others to come. I love that people from all walks of life hang out in there, united by their desire to read, and in this increasingly digital world, I love the physical aspect of picking up a book and browsing. But most of all, I love that as soon as I enter our local library I am instantly transported back to those Saturday afternoons as a nine year old, when I would escape to Narnia, Smugglers Top or Prince Edward Island.