I’m not a big reader, and I can’t pretend to know much about literature, or the intricacies and artistry of the English language. I am a Cornishman, and schooled in a Grange Hill fashion during the 1980s my CSE in English Language was perhaps achieved against the odds. My Degree in Creative Arts was also achieved without mastery of the English language.
Despite the above, I and many others can appreciate a good story and a good book.
I remember as a boy encountering the phenomenon of ‘the library angel’. The idea that, seemingly without direction, one might encounter the right book at the right time. You might wonder the shelves of the local library not knowing what might pique your interest. Without ambition or reason, a book would be seen, picked up, often at a moment of resignation. There’s probably a dozen or so times this has happened to me, where the said book turns out to be an illumination, a stimulation, a joy and an energising tonic! Of course, there’s no real mystery in ‘the library angel’, one seeks, one decides to venture down a certain aisle, one chooses to look at a certain shelf, and one picks up the stimulating title. Or does one?
Although I am not a big reader, I have enjoyed numerous good reads at different stages of my life to-date. From frippery like the Jonasson’s ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’, through Stewart’s optimistic ‘Driving Over Lemons’, to my hallucinatory reading of Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’.
Before this year’s holiday, I had no idea what book I might take away. A ten minutes meander in the library was fruitless but at last minute I saw the ‘Classics’ display stand, and after a spin, I picked up Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’. Heaven knows why.
WOW! What a journey. It’s a captivating read. My mind lived the journey, smells, colours, grief, joy… Steinbeck really demonstrates the story’s world descriptively painting sensational scenes, events, emotions, and ideas. I can’t give you an analysis except to say what a powerful read. “Man’s inhumanity to man”, “a story of human unity and love as well as the need for cooperative rather than individualistic ideals during hard times.” To quote SparkNotes “Mournful, awed, enraged, sympathetic”. Thanks Leicestershire Libraries!
And so, as one thing leads to another, on returning from my holiday, we find in the library Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’. Another great read! Quite a different experience to GOW. But again, a sensational read. To quote Sparknotes; “The perpetual contest between good and evil”, “Philosophical; foreboding; nostalgic; hopeful”.
Those two experiences left me quite saturated; with images, feelings, thoughts, fears, and hopes …
And so I turned to the library and books again for some lighter relief. No ‘library angel’ this time, but I did meet a neighbor in the library and she offered a casual suggestion. The blurb quotes “Non-stop action – this book delivers”. At first sight, I thought hum ‘pop literature’, not sure if I fancied spending time on the literary equivalent of Gillette’s ‘a best a man can get’. But, like much good pop culture, it was a feast for the senses. Great fun. So much so that after ‘The Sacred Sword’ I am now reading ‘The Armada Legacy’. James Bond meets Jason Bourne, with a historical twist.
Books, stories, what might we be without them? Libraries, free public libraries, what might we be without them?
Whether we are looking for education or entertainment, or a bit of both, the public library offers possibilities for discovery and personal growth. The loss of good public libraries would indeed be steps away from discovery and against the idea of free personal growth.
Reading helps; reduce stress, keep the brain in shape, educate, entertain, stimulate, boost empathy.
Reading fiction can simulate real-world problems and therefore has real consequences for the reader. Reading helps to engage mental skills at the same time as stimulating enjoyment, self-confidence, motivation and a sense of achievement.
What have you been reading? Dare you tell?