Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Librarian Hero Figure

The libraries over here are taking a kicking. Alan Bennett famously compared their demise to child abuse at the launch of World Book Night in Trafalgar Square last year (at 6 mins 45 approx in the video below - if you haven't visited this site before, I was honoured to be on stage on the sofa for this event, I'm in the white coat). Now that children have access to computers, I'm not sure that closing down libraries equates to child abuse. But their loss is something to mourn - and the idea that they should be staffed by volunteers, and that authors should not be paid royalties for books borrowed in volunteer libraries, is absurd.

Libraries are places where you can borrow books for free, secure in the knowlege that the author will be recompensed (at slightly under 10% of what they'd get if you'd bought the book new, but much better than if you'd joined a bookswap site and sent the book to a stranger). Librarians have studied for years in order to get their jobs. They are curators of knowledge and lovers of literature. They are educators. They are friends of both authors and readers.

Now there's a new initiative in the US called Book Lust Rediscoveries to bring out of print books to readers, curated by Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl. She's something of a hero in the US. You can even get a Nancy Pearl action figure. If such a figure were to be created over here, I'd like to nominate Tim O'Dell, the librarian at Brixton Library. He was on the World Book Night panel. He booked me for a talk at Brixton Library recently. He's a lovely man. If I could remember - or had ever known - the names of the librarians who used to check out six books every couple of weeks for me at Tunbridge Wells library when I was a child, I'd put them up for an award. Without readers, you don't get writers. And writers can't exist without readers to read their books - and librarians (and booksellers - hello, you!) put them into the hands of readers.

The first book to be released, in both paperback and ebook edition, by the Book Lust Rediscoveries imprint, is A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller:

"As funny and entertaining as it is captivating and heartrending, A Gay and Melancholy Sound is a shattering depiction of modern disconnection and the tragic consequences of a life bereft of love:

Joshua Bland has lived the kind of life many would define as extraordinary. Born in a small Iowa town to a controlling, delusional mother who had always wanted a daughter rather than a son, her anger at him colors his life. His father, a compassionate drinker incapable of dealing with Joshua’s mother, walks out on his wife and son, leaving a vacuum in the family that is damagingly filled by his tutor-cum-stepfather Petrarch Pavan, scion of a wealthy New York family who has secrets of his own. Playing on Joshua’s brilliance, Petrarch trains him to win a nationwide knowledge competition, but Joshua’s disappointing results in the finals are met with anger and disbelief by both his mother and stepfather. If Petrarch was unsuccessful in teaching Joshua the information he needed to win the contest, he had more success in instilling Joshua with the cynicism, self-doubt, and self-hatred that fill his own soul.

Enlisting in the army during World War II, he serves first as an infantryman, where his irreverent letters home turn him into a best-selling author. Then, as a paratrooper, he meets the physical challenges he thought were beyond his reach and helps free the concentration camps before being wounded as the Allied forces free Buchenwald. Back home after the war, he becomes a wildly successful producer—and all of this by the age of thirty-seven. But when his production company flounders amid critical and financial woes, the reality of who he is becomes perfectly, depressingly clear: he has had a lifetime of extraordinary experiences—and no emotional connection to any of it."

Edit: July 2012. I have lost all the comments from the last year for this and other posts. Sorry! I'll try and get them back...