Monday, 8 February 2016

National Libraries Day: A List



Liverpool-Library-Walkway-3
The book-titles walkway into Liverpool’s Central Library



As so often at Clothes in Books, author and blogfriend Lissa Evans is to blame for this post (see for example the entries on this and this, apart from her own books). While recommending one Margery Sharp book to me, she mentioned another:


Lissa tweet




Well, first of all I had to immediately order the first-mentioned Sharp book (The Innocents) and then Lost Chapel Picnics….

… both have arrived, and I will just say, Lost Chapel is a book of short stories, and contains one called The Girl in the Leopardskin Pants. I hope you are all as excited as I am at the thought of that future blogpost and picture.

 
something light black dress hat


- we already managed this picture for one of her books.
 
Anyway, I tweeted back to her:


--- it was something I’d forgotten about: reading the same book. Haunting the library. Knowing what was on the shelves. Lissa and I can’t be the only two?

It was a feature of our years – 1960s, 70s, 80s. It’s different nowadays – if my children had had favourite books they borrowed over and over I would have bought them their own copies. My own (very reading-focused) parents wouldn’t have known what I was reading.

Lissa and I swapped some titles from our memories: hers were
'The Devastating Boys', Elizabeth Taylor (was big on short stories), 'The Siege' Clara Claibourne Park, the Sharps already mentioned, Phyllis Bentley short stories, Somerset Maugham.
It was 


                                      on Saturday, so in honour of that, and the importance of libraries now, then, and always, I have made a list of my favourites of the books I discovered, and multiply-borrowed, in my local library in Liverpool many years ago. And would like to say a heartfelt and belated thank you to the Liverpool City Library service, who provided me with homes from home. I haunted them, having (possibly illicitly) joined several different branches to get a better choice of books.

I would also like to mention the awesome poet Ian McMillan. He has (at least) two great poems about libraries. The New Library, April 1964 is about a little boy going on a school trip, and I love it because he is ‘hoping for Biggles, praying for Biggles’ – and I recognize so well the idea that on your way to the library you are obsessing about what you might find there. (And see also the blog’s James Bond as Biggles meme).

The other, Adult Fiction, is the best poem about libraries I have ever read, and the only one that comes close to expressing how I felt about my local, and the importance of the endless time I spent there.
The light outside would be the colour
Of an Everyman cover and the lights in the library
Would be soft as anything, and I’d sit at a table
And flick through a book and fall in love
With the turning of the leaves, the turning of the leaves.



I don’t think the full poem is available online: I have it in a book called Talking Myself Home.

And here is a prose description of a university library, from J Robert Lennon’s wonderful book Happyland:
She had always liked turning on the lights in the library— the sensation of illuminating, from the bank of switches in the foyer, an entire vast building with the gentlest swipe of her fingers. She imagined what it must look like outside, the library flickering to life. She contemplated the collected wisdom of human history, packed onto the millions of pages that burdened the sagging stacks, worthless in the dark: and then suddenly, with the crackling dawn of daylight-corrected light, taking on its glorious burden of meaning.


And now, 

these are the books I borrowed over and over, some of them wilfully, bizarrely obscure, and some not. Because of the joys of the Internet, I now have my very own copies of most of these books:

1) Beloved vagabond by WJ Locke (1906) I only have to pick this one up to be transported back to my teens, when this seemed the most romantic and exciting and Bohemian book ever. There are two blogposts so you can read all about it.

 
Beloved Vagabond


2) Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901) I think the idea of the clever child spy was enchanting, along with the picture of India.


3) The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1915) Again, I loved a story about children who are given adult jobs to do, who set off to change the world. And I did like Ruritanian romance – Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope was another library favourite.
 
Lost Prince 1915


4) The complete works of Antonia Forest – a collection of school stories, family adventures and historical novels that exercise a strange hold on those who loved them as teens. As well as anything else – I realized recently that her End of Term is dedicated to the wonderful lost author and new blog favourite GB Stern (discovered by me over the past year via Hilary McKay). Apparently Forest and Stern were great penpals. (And her Shakespearean books have a thank you to Marjorie Barber, who I think my be the same person of that name who was such a friend of Dorothy L Sayers.)

5) Gone to the Pictures by Hilda Lewis (1946) It took me years to track this one down again in adulthood, because I was convinced (and I think may have told Lissa) that it was by Hilda Irving and called Penny Plain or Penny Pictures or some combo of those words. It is a novel about the early days of cinema and movie-making in the UK, and is riveting, charming, and full of authentic-sounding details. I don’t know of any other books on this exact subject. Lewis wrote many other books – historical novels, and books for children, but this was the only one I liked.




6) The Goldsmith’s Wife by Jean Plaidy (1950) (Apparently also known as The King’s Mistress – that wouldn’t narrow down the subject matter) A historical novel about Jane Shore, mistress to King Edward IV. It is easy to mock Jean Plaidy, and she was no Hilary Mantel. But her historical novels were carefully researched and dealt in the facts. Of course she put words into characters’ mouths and imagined their feelings and motives, but that’s fair enough. I still think she gave me a basic grounding in history – a framework of the dates, the people – that stood me in good stead when I wanted to read more serious history books. This is not one of her better-known ones, but it was my favourite. And I’d much rather read it again than the much-praised Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, which deals with the same era.

7) The Warlock by Wilson Tucker (1967) – I have never come across the author or book anywhere else, and I have never met anyone else who has read it or heard of it. It’s a very clever Cold War spy thriller.

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Those are mine. I’m sure Lissa and I (and Ian McMillan) aren’t the only ones with this past and obsession. I’m so hoping that others will share in the comments the books that they borrowed over and over, and their memories of childhood library-visiting. 





























36 comments:

  1. I have to read 'Gone to the Pictures' - can't believe that I didn't stumble across in when researching 'Their Finest Hour and a Half.' Not in London Library, dammit, but will go on Abe books.

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  2. Replies
    1. Incidentally - must tell you a library anecdote. When I was about 6 or 7, I got a 'proper' book (no pictures, plain cover) out of the children's library, attracted by the title - it was clearly about magic. I brought it home, but found the first page completely incomprehensible; I had no idea what any of the characters were talking about. I showed it to my (much older) sisters, who instantly became hysterical. Because the title was 'Wizard Prang' and it was about first world war pilots. Cabbage crates over the briny, anyone?

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    2. Oh that's so sweet, and hilarious....

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  3. What a lovely post, Moira. It reminds me of the wonderful times I had in the library growing up. I haunted our local library and school library. Even worked in the school library as a teenager, and certainly re-borrowed plenty of books there. Thanks for reminding me of those good times.

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    1. I'd have had you down for another library-lover, Margot, so thanks for proving me right with your memories

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  4. The first book I remember borrowing from Warstones Library (the one often eulogised by Caitlin Moran) was Mrs Pepperpot by Alf Prøysen. I bought the same edition for my daughters from a second-hand bookshop. My clearest memory of actually taking a book from the shelves is one of the Swallows and Amazons books, possibly We Didn't Mean to go to Sea. I can still see the dust jacket. My kids are also library lovers and we are fortunate to have a thriving local library which has thus far evaded closure.

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    1. Oh yes, I know the Moran connection. I remember Mrs Pepperpot, but the Swallows And Amazons really strikes the chord - I loved those books, despite being the most townie child ever, without the slightest wish to go camping or sailing. I'm glad your family continues the tradition.

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  5. If you want a non-fiction biography of Elizabeth Lambert Shore (renamed "Jane Shore" to posterity),
    The Mysterious Mistress: The Life and Legend of Jane Shore Paperback, by Margaret Crosland, has more information on her.

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    1. Thank you very much, I will most certainly go and look that up. I would find it particularly interesting to read a non-fiction version of her life.

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  6. I remember being mad for the Agaton Sax and Uncle books and fortunately my local library had loads of them. From memory both Agaton and Uncle were sharp dressers.

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    1. I don't know those books at all, must go and find them. Very pleased to hear they were sharp dressers.

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    2. The Uncle books by JP Martin?? Imaginative, satirical, magical, anarchic yet rigidly under control and funny, funny, funny, FUNNY. And the illustrations by Quentin Blake shaped my childhood.

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    3. Yep, I read the first two books to my youngest two a while back and they loved them just the same.

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  7. Lovely post. My 70s memories of my local library were obsessively reading Malory Towers and wishing my school uniform was orange and brown (yuk!) anything by Rumer Godden and Jilly Cooper's 'girl' books which I still defend to this day!

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    1. Yes to all of those! Jilly Cooper was funny, and light-hearted, but also very literate.

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  8. Thanks for that Moira - and a fine cause to celebrate (for surely, keeping libraries open is now a cause). I think in my case it tended to be reference books rather than fiction that I kept borrowing - I didn't start going into libraries regularly until I was almost 10, no idea why - maybe there just wasn't one nearer enough to where we lived in Rome - I'll have to ask the parents!

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    1. Yes, you obviously need to check up on family history. I am eternally grateful for a library that was near enough to walk to from home - it definitely shaped my life...

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  9. ‘hoping for Biggles, praying for Biggles’ - that was my childhood. *sighs* As an adult I just wanted to get my hands on that rarity, Biggles Takes it Rough... ;-)

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    1. In the Ian McMillan poem, another little boy spoils the moment by wondering about 'Biggles Flies Open', and the narrator doesn't understand. This poem is meant for you Vicki.

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  10. A lovely and lively post, Moira! I have been associated with circulating libraries (as we call the small local libraries here) since childhood. I read all The Hardy Boys, several Just William, and The Three Investigators from these pleasure haunts. Now my family occasionally borrows books (including Archie Comics, for old time's sake) from the next-door library. Of course, they are almost extinct. I'm curious about the works of Jean Plaidy, whose novels I often come across, and Wilson Tucker.

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    1. Thanks for your memories Prashant, I can just imagine you enjoying those books. And if you ever come across Wilson Tucker, give him a go - I think you would like this book.

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  11. I can vividly remember how amazed I was to discover that Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt were the same person....I read some Jean Plaidy, mainly the 18th and 19th century Royal ones, but was more into Victoria Holt. I do remember one of the Plaidys ended with "And now it is time for me to lay down my pen" - I think it might have been the Marie Antoinette one. I only remember that last line, though, it made quite an impact.

    I have so many memories of libraries - at some point I will have to recount them, but at the moment, being headed off to the States for a couple weeks, don't have a lot of time to write everything down.

    I liked libraries because it allowed me to borrow all the books my dad didn't approve of - lots of Enid Blyton - and know that said unapproved of books would NOT mysteriously disappear into thin air as soon as I took my eyes off them....

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    1. We should all be writing down our library memories - such an important part of life.
      Yes, I remember the surprise about Holt/Plaidy, though you could sort of make sense of it when you knew...
      AS a parent I always knew what my children were borrowing, but the parents of my generation just didn't...

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    2. I commandeered all the family's library cards to ensure that I could take out the maximum number of books per week - it used to be 4 books per person, so I was able to take out 16 a week.

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    3. Me too, me too! I had joined other branches so I could get more books. Nowadays this would come up because computerised. But then... my bad brother once sent me a fake letter from the libraries claiming I had been caught out borrowing too many books and had too many tickets. He did the library style beautifully, and I had a moment of horror before realizing it was a hoax.

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    4. Our librarians definitely knew - we would turn up as a family, me and my dad and little brother, and use four cards all in one go on books all clearly for me....

      My little brother is disabled, and was in a pushchair/walker until he was about seven or so - one day we were in the local library, and one of Ben's favourite things was to push the trolley in the supermarket. Anyway, when he was about six, he got bored with sitting around in the pushchair while dad and I were both engrossed in our books, so he wriggled out of his straps, and using the pushchair as a walker, managed to do a runner out of the library, crossed the car park to get to the supermarket, abandoned the pushchair, and then ran amok in the supermarket with a trolley, chasing poor shoppers up and down the aisle.

      Eventually a shopper ran into the library asking "Has anyone lost a little disabled boy?"

      My mum never found out until at least twelve years afterwards. The atmosphere pretty much hit below freezing as she heard it for the first time.

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    5. A story simultaneously to make you laugh and at the same time make you panic about what could have been...

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  12. I hope you are all as excited as I am at the thought of that future blogpost and picture. ........I fell odd my chair, Moira...

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    1. Go on, Col, I know you'd have a soft spot for leopardskin trousers....

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  14. I have already said I don't remember much of what I read as a child, but I did go to libraries a lot. There was one a mile or so from where we lived and I remember entertaining myself by walking there some afternoons. I do remember Ricka Flicka and Dicka, but that was when I was very young.

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    1. Well you had the joy even if you don't remember many details...

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