BROUGHT TO BOOK!
Now these days, I don’t get too many compliments, unless I’ve had my hair done, or bought a new lipstick, so imagine my surprise and delight on entering my membership card into the automated machine at the library to receive a slip with the inscription: “You are outstanding…” Outstanding, I thought, secretly preening myself and taking a quick, furtive look round to check whether any of the other readers realised that they were in the presence of greatness.
Was this some kind of new form of motivational encouragement? If so, I was very impressed.
I read on. “You have incurred a fine for non-renewal of library books. 75p outstanding.”
Oh, that sort of outstanding. “Fine,” I thought to myself. Still, I suppose I shouldn’t mind too much. 75 p might be just enough to stump up for some decent chocolate digestives for the tea-break of the hard-working library staff.
Still, though, if they really did want the books returned on time, then quite frankly, they only had themselves, or rather the local council, to blame.
Because it was my local council who, three years ago, in their infinite wisdom, decided to close down my nearest library which was a mere three minutes’ walk away. Right up my street.
Believe me, like other local residents, I put up a fight. I went along to planning meetings, spoke to the local councillor, wrote a piece for the local newspaper…
“It’s out of my hands,” said the councillor, “We need the money for more important things ….”
“More important than what?” I queried. After all, what could be more important than a local library: the hub of the community: offering free educational resources, computer access, after-school clubs, children’s story times etc…?
Here he fidgeted. “We need the money to set up cctv cameras in Cricklewood.”
Cricklewood. Yes, now I saw. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve no doubt that cctv is A Good Thing and I would not wish to deprive the good citizens of Cricklewood of their viewing pleasure.
But it doesn’t help when people like me want to throw themselves into the arms of their favourite fictional hero, Mr Darcy, at three minutes’ notice. Not something you want to capture on cctv or anywhere else, I ‘m sure.
“And what?” I said, holding up my trump card, “About elderly people? How are they supposed to make the 20 minute journey by public transport to the next nearest library, freezing at bus stops as they wait for what used to be a local amenity on their doorsteps?”
“Ah, we’ve got that all sorted,” the councillor reassured me. “We’ll have a Mobile Library.”
Which they did. Once they’d closed down the permanent library. They had a Mobile Library for all of three months. For two hours, twice a week. But which two hours and which two days was anyone’s guess. It did seem to vary from week to week and was certainly never there when you expected it to be. And then one day, without notice, that closed too.
“Not enough demand,” was the explanation from the Town Hall. But I think it was a devious plot – enough to rival that of thriller writer, P D James any time, I’m sure.
Come on, councillors, play fair. Couldn’t you at least have put your hands in your pockets and bought us each a Kindle? After all, a library is for life, not just for the life of a council candidate.
But today, wrapped up like Nanook of the North, I have had to trudge through the snow to reach my now nearest, not-so-local library, to get a book for Book Club.
For, I am proud to say that, like many people, I belong to a Book Club. Ours meets monthly in a central London restaurant.
I understand that these days, there are “heavy” and “light” book clubs, depending on how deeply you want to delve into the delights of the book in question. In that case, our book club should have had the title “helium” at one point. It was really more just an excuse to have a nibble and a natter.
Usually half-way through dessert, some bright spark would say, “Weren’t we supposed to have read a book this month?”
“Oh yes,” answered our leader, “Anybody read it?”
“No,” came the chorus.
“Oh well, let’s pick another book not to read next month,” declared the leader. And everyone went away happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very fond of reading. In fact, my eyes quite lit up once on a visit to Bedfordshire when I spotted a sign on the door of the Oxfam bookshop, bearing an advert for the upcoming Reading Festival. I wondered to myself how they would run such an event. Would they have librarians on hand to keep the silence? It was sure to be a very quiet festival but, at least, people would be able to read in peace. It was only when my companion said, “Reading, it’s a place in Berkshire,” that the penny finally dropped. Reading Festival indeed.
Anyway, a year ago, a new guy, John, took over the helm of Book Club. He is a Man with a Plan. A plan to get us actually to read books. How novel! Indeed, he provides a serious structure to Book Club, with summaries of the book on the night for people who haven’t read it, to facilitate discussion.
And not only that but he brings along the ultimate motivation tool: stickers! I kid you not. For just turning up, you get a sticker with a tick on it, for reading a chapter, you get a sticky, smiley face, and for reading the whole book, you get a “Well Done” sticker. And, on many occasions, people have even earned all three. Anyway, it seems to be working. Never has attendance been so high, and never have so many books been read by so many.
Every month, we vote in a secret ballot for the next book to be chosen, amidst much rivalry and good-natured banter. I find bribery quite a useful tool on these occasions. For instance, last September, I promised that if my selected book, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender, was chosen, then I personally would bake a lemon cake and bring it along to the meeting.
However, soon after my lobbying was successful and the book duly chosen (or Julie chosen!), I realised that I would not be able to attend the meeting in question,with the requisite cake in hand, as I was due to go away on holiday. A fact which was neither forgotten nor forgiven by my fellow readers. Tough crowd!
Still, all was not lost, as I duly baked a lemon cake for the January meeting, as a sort of birthday cake to mark John’s first year in office. So, all was settled amicably. Thank goodness though, I didn’t suggest “Around the World in 80 Feasts.”
Anyway, this morning’s trip to the library was, in the end, quite successful as I have chosen the perfect volume for the next book club meeting. It’s written by Agony Auntie, Virginia Ironside and bears the glorious title “No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club!”
I wonder what the reaction will be. I do hope it’s outstanding. In any case, we’re sure of a fine time. Now where’s my hairbrush and make-up again? I may be passing through Cricklewood later on today and want to make sure I look good on their cctv. Happy reading everyone!