Tuesday, 5 November 2013

reading the book

not so very long ago i was mulling about in that increasingly rarest of things - an actual bookshop - (true it was a waterstones but i've since been in the watermill in aberfeldy a couple of times but these days beggars can't be choosers) when i came across the pike, a biography of gabriele d'annunzio. oh, i thought, that looks interesting and put it on my to do list. a few weeks later and here's lucy hughes-hallett winning the samuel johnson prize with that very book.

which is great for her but commiserations for the rest of the shortlists, all of whose books i'd like to be giving a read. yes, including the one on margaret thatcher. sue me! it got me to thinking how much i miss browsing about around a bookshop, those chance finds you come across. true, it has to be said that a very small bit of careful googlemachining can provide the same, and possibly more, but sitting bashing away at a keyboard provides none of the same tactile sense.

in the interim i was up at the aberfeldy festival,. the poetry thing i was doing was packed - all manner of folk, all ages, all sorts. i was particularly impressed that they'd got a bunch of the local school kids in to do a group reading. which got me to thinking about a recent comment of noel gallagher's - that reading fiction was 'a waste of fucking time'. while it's just the sort of asinine statement that seems to constitute gallagher's career these days, constructing a false opposition between fiction and non-fiction (i can't bring myself to go any further beyond that!) and facilitating an 'argument' that has no good reason to exist rather than ask the deceptively complex question - why are people reading?

all of which got me to thinking about neil gaiman's recent statements on libraries and reading

i loved what he had to say about the escapism of reading. for me it never mattered whether it was made up or whether 'it had actually happened' so long as what i was reading took me somewhere i hadn't been before. imaginatively or intellectually it's all one. certainly as the years have gone by i find that reading is the one area in which i'm markedly more tolerant now than i was when i was younger. and, as a consequence, i'm far more inclined to be asking - tell what's good about that, than dismissing something because it was too mainstream/no canonical/not cutting edge enough. so young and yet so opinionated! lol

so far in scotland we haven't had the same pressure on libraries as south of the border but we shouldn't fool ourselves that it isn't coming. people just aren't using them. speaking to librarians where i live i find that i'm in the top two per cent if library users and i'm hardly the frequent flyer i once was. they tell me that less than ten years ago getting the mobile library around a circuit of the district took two days. now it takes an afternoon. then, it turns out, most of the people who go to the library aren't taking out books at all.

the reasons for all of this are many and varied and interesting. the great shame is that libraries and, i would argue, reading in the wider sense are under threat as never before. i can, just about, handle the loss of bookshops but i'd be bereft if the public library was to disappear. my earliest memories of books are of going to the library, the excitement of getting in the car, of being able to get a book, open the covers and vanish.

so one day soon i'm going to take a trip to early 20th century italy and meet gabriele d'annunzio. i'm guessing i'm not going to like him much but i'm looking forward to the journey. then i'll visit some graveyards, think about bees, romans and maybe even take a once around afghanistan. yes, noel, stories all and very much only a version 'of what actually happened'. more reading will reveal….more.

i read some advice by some writer somewhere recently. read, she said, read everything. can't say better than that.

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