I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant

published 2014








[Student accommodation in the 1970s]

Sometimes Utility bookcases were provided. We asked for them to be removed. We kept our books in modern style, on shelves of planks raised on stacks of bricks . They were easily dismantled and taken from one unheated, mildew-ridden slum to another. The walls were decorated with posters attached by blobs of Blu-Tack, an adhesive substance that came in sheets of blue goo. The important fittings were the coffee mugs and the ashtrays, but books were the true furnishings. They were the soul of a room. They defined the identity of the person who lived there in a series of announcements: Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Charles Reich’s The Greening of America. Richard Neville’s Playpower. Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Carlos Casta├▒eda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. All of these were required titles on the bookshelves of the counterculture, as defining as the shoulder-length hair, the tie-dyed t-shirt smelling of incense ash, and the bell-bottom jeans stained with drops of rank brown patchouli oil.


observations: This is Linda Grant’s Kindle Single – it’s short, costs 99p and can be read very quickly. Anyone who has too many books, of any kind, should read and enjoy it. This is non-fiction: Grant is moving house and so works out what to do about her surplus books, while thinking about her past as a reader.

As I say, any book reader/buyer/hoarder will love this piece, but it particularly resonated with me because I grew up, apparently, not far from Linda Grant, and around the same time. She went to the same bookshops as I did. A magical place for me as a child was the children’s book department at WH Smiths in Allerton Rd – that sounds so uninspiring, so limited: no Foyles, no Daunt, no Harrods books for us. So it was quite remarkably encouraging to find someone else who loved it. The department store Lewis’s in Liverpool city centre had a Penguin Bookshop tucked away in a corner – again, Grant and I haunted it. It took me from Noel Streatfeild to Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, and I once won a competition there and was given a bundle of books.

As well as all this, she does terrific clothes in her books – it’s surprising she hasn’t been on the blog before. She has a new novel out in July, Upstairs at the Party, again featuring our shared background, which will most certainly be providing an entry. 

You can read a longer extract from I Murdered My Library here at the Guardian.

The picture shows 1973 students looking at a noticeboard, and is from the LSE archives.

Comments

  1. I'll wait until I have more room on the shelves - or until someone pens something about where I grew up or currently live!

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    1. Yet strangely enough when I was reading it, and thinking of people with too many books, you did pop into my head...

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  2. Haha - and my embargo was going so well up until yesterday when I cracked! Catholic guilt-tripping today, which is why I have turned this one down!

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    1. So what did you buy/obtain then?

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    2. Clay Reynolds - a couple - Rage (Agatite) and The Players. Eryk Pruitt - Dirtbags. Tom Pitts - Hustle. Garrad Hayes - Bourbon and Blood. Robert Littell - A Nasty Piece of Work............. got to be worth at least 3 Our Fathers and a good few Hail Mary's!

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    3. Not challenging any stereotypes there with those titles.... Happy reading.

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  3. As a book buyer, hoarder, and reader in that order, I ought to be reading this book too. I miss the days when I didn't own a single book and would go to the local library, pick up a novel or two, read them over a week, and return them before the due date. In those days I also read more books.

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    1. I share your feeling for the magic of libraries - now I can get whatever I want, and Amazon will deliver it to me very quickly, instantly if on Kindle. But I have such fond memories of entering the library with such anticipation, and a list of books I was hoping to find, and the delight if the right ones were there. Nothing can quite match that.

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  4. Moira - Oh, I can so completely relate to this! Books are the one thing I hoard cheerfully. Thank goodness for my Kindle or I would have no place to sit. And I love the description of shelves made of bricks and wood; I saw so many college rooms with that decor!

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    1. Absolutely, the Kindle has finally saved me from myself, I hope I have reached peak book in my house, and the numbers might actually go down now. I had some upmarket shelves made from planks with tall storage tins - a cut above bricks I'm sure you'll agree.

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  5. Saw the item in The Guardian in fact - important to be reminded of this in the age of the e-reader! Thanks Moira.

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    1. It really resonates with old-school book fans, doesn't it? thanks Sergio.

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  6. This brings back memories, especially as I look at my huge floor to ceiling hand-made beautiful wooden bookshelves while I type. I also just love my books.

    I remember back to college days when we did make bookshelves out of planks and bricks, or put up boards on wall brackets. Although my bookshelves consisted of different books in the counter-culture: Franz Fanon, James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, Sheila Rowbotham, the Our Bodies Ourselves Collective and so much more, I cherished them all, and still have many of them right here.

    And I totally agree about libraries. I loved to visit them and pick up my selections, looking eagerly for the books I wanted, coming home with an armful on each trip.
    Now one puts books on reserive, and they are located in another branch and transported to one's local branch. But that takes some of the fun out of libraries -- searching for just the right books and feeling elated upon finding them.

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    1. thanks for that lovely description Kathy - overlap of books too. And I'm glad to say I have elegant hand-made shelves too, now.

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  7. What a fantastic find, and for 99p! I always think it is brilliant to read a book that resonates with your own memories. I have fond memories of browsing bookshops as a child, there was a fantastic one near where my Uncle lived and he'd always happily browse the adult section while I chose something, I remember vividly the day I chose Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.
    http://cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Cleo, and what a nice story. Bookshops and libraries so important to children...

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  8. Wow, this is really short. I will have to read it. And I can even borrow it for free. (Here it is $2.99, how does that compare to 99p?)

    It is funny how book acquisition changes over the years. I did not grow up with enough money to buy books, and I was shy and hid in reading, so libraries were my second home. Then, I did not change to buying books and having shelves and stacks of them until I married my husband (in our thirties), who was always a buyer, not a borrower. Of course we did spend a lot of time with our son in the library as a child, since we could not afford to buy every children's book he wanted to read. But we still have a children's book collection of (mostly) illustrated books. Such fun to remember all of that.

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    1. We are marking out our lives in different ways of reading and obtaining books - like you, I couldn't afford to buy many books till I was older, so many of the books I loved most as a young person I actually don't have copies of.

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