A couple of weeks ago I took a walk to my local library (Redland) on Whiteladies Road. It was Tuesday afternoon and the bright red door was firmly shut. This branch is normally closed on Wednesdays and I feared the inevitable had happened. It had been shut down for good. As I walked away, I felt really worried about all those books that must still be inside. I’d borrowed Ordinance Survey maps from there for our road trips to France and Cornwall. I’d even attended a book-group meeting once and my comment (on Sea of Poppies) was pinned on the shelf labelled G, for Amitav Ghosh. I’d become addicted to Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano mysteries and borrowed all the copies they had ahead of watching the series on television that had me completely addicted.
For the majority of people here, the library is either for the very young, to drop in after school or for the elderly for their coffee mornings, or for those who need to use the computers. The rest of the population feed their reading habit in a more obvious way – they go to a shop and buy a book (or of course purchase it online). Many of my friends don’t have a library card and have found my habit a little quirky, I imagine. I buy books as paperbacks and it just feels nicer to read a hardback that I can borrow from the library, at least for me.
Growing up the way I did, books were a luxury, even in households that were comfortably off like ours. As children, there were few books that we bought. The fat oversized collection of fairy tales was probably my only owned book for many years. Occasionally, I’d get an Enid Blyton as a present and later, more edgy books (J D Salinger or Harper Lee) from friends. The yellowed (almost brown with age) copies of Somerset Maugham, P G Wodehouse and many writers of another era were carefully preserved – the very act of pulling them out to read would’ve made them disintegrate.
In the 80’s, books from the former Soviet Union were cheap and beautifully produced and available everywhere in India. I remember buying Pushkin’s Tales with the picture of a fire-breathing dragon on the cover (or was it some other mythical creature?). The only other books that were freely given away were copies of the Bible from the proselytising school I went to, in the hope of a change of heart about my faith. I tried to read the holy words of wisdom but the Thus spakes and begats were quite incomprehensible and didn’t hold my interest for very long. The other book I remember being obsessed with was the Concise Oxford Dictionary with its thin filament like pages. Inside were words with detailed meanings and a lot of my reading pleasure was derived from that single tome.
And then of course there was Trashy Reading Central – Eswari Lending Library on Lloyds Road in Chennai. That little den of iniquity introduced me to the dubious pleasures of Harold Robins, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, Jeffrey Archer, Erle Stanley Gardner (Mystery of the Amorous Aunt or the Case of the Buxom Blonde) and of course Mills and Boons and Georgette Heyer. Chips and cheese for the mind! My copy of Love in the Time of Cholera was borrowed and returned before the fine kicked in. In a way, I feel like the narrator in Catcher in the Rye – what happens to the fish when the lake freezes over, he asks. It caused him a great deal of anxiety and this is exactly how I feel about the books trapped behind the door.
So after this tragic end to my local bibliotheque, I went to W H Smiths and bought a couple of books that day. I also received some as presents for a just gone birthday. The charity shop display had a couple of books that I’d wanted to read and I got them for a pound. Just one amongst these is borrowed from a friend. I’ve stacked them all in a pile (see picture above) and intend to honour them by reading it swiftly – imagining they were from a library.
Thank you to all who read this post regularly. Just to let you know that Redland Library is now open and in use. It was closed for refurbishment with no notice to that effect – hence my panic!