Adam Bird

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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Reading Books and Acts of Childish Vandalism

A life behind bars

Last week a friend suggested that I have a look to see what national day/week it was and write a blog post upon the subject. A great suggestion I thought, but the timing was slightly out. The only day in March that really appealed to me was World Book Day, but having already published my post for the week I thought I’d save that particular subject for the future. Since then, I’ve been assigned a task - to write an article about my local Library and so this week, I’ve concocted a blog post which is a mixture of all of that!

My article, which I have submitted as part of my writing class was to look at our local library and talk about it, as if writing for a newspaper perhaps. With it came a 500 word limit; meaning
I was up and over that long before I’d even made an introduction!

Within it, I spoke about our own central library in Gravesend, how Kent County Council are going against the current trend and are actually placing some much welcome investment in the form of a redevelopment of it’s Victorian Carnegie building and reconstructing the annexe block next door. The article goes onto explore the philanthropic background of it’s founding investor and the essence of what makes us human.

However, the personal experiences which I added as a form of habit were lost in the final editing process, but in doing so I felt that perhaps the anecdote was maybe too funny, if only for my sister Jessica’s benefit, not to retell at a later date.

A quick perusal through my bookshelves and you might come across Swallows and Amazons, written by Arthur Ransome. You will notice that it stands out against all the other books, not least because of the artwork decorating its spine looks as if it belongs within another era, but its the plastic dust-jacket which gives it away - immediately screams “library book”.

Although it’s lost that clinical, library type smell, open it up and you will see that within it’s yellowing pages, the ‘due back’ date stamp reads ‘10th April 1993’ - only a small matter of being 18 years overdue!

Its not the fear however of a monster fine that scared me into going back after all these years, nor is it the alleged ghost which haunts the bathroom, causing a mysterious lavatory to flush late into the night. It is instead of a juvenile accident and the fear of punishment which is the sole cause of my self-imposed exile.

Back in 1993, Jessica and I, enthusiastically encouraged by our mother to chose a selection of books from within the children’s section, whilst she went off and selected from the adult range.

Within the area marked ‘little ones’ was its focal point, a bright red train which doubled up as a book repository. There was even a little cabin which you could escape inside with a book and read for a while.

All around the outside, making up the rest of the train construction were shelves laden with books aimed at a much younger audience than my sister and I were at the time.

Dotted around the floor space were little plastic chairs varying from one bright shiny colour to the next, red, yellow - prime colours mainly. These chairs, little did I realise, were not built for growing teenage boys, but for tiny toddlers instead.

Finding a place to sit, with a nice Enid Blyton novel, the Secret Seven, or Famous Five for company I sat upon one of these flimsy thrones - only for the back two legs to give way and for me to fall squarely and firmly onto my back leaving my own two legs waving wildly into the air.Jessica burst into howls of laughter, which in the library is the equivalent as screaming blue murder in the street, whilst I struggled to get back up and survey the damage that I’d caused to this plastic chair.

We decided together that this was a grave crime and that our punishment would be severe and painful. As many a criminal before us has made a rash decision to cover up their crimes my sister and I did exactly the same thing. We put the broken pieces back together and placed the chair as if it was still one unit into the cabin of the train.

Making haste, we met up again with Mum and left with our newly acquired books attempting to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Neither of us said anything about my heinous act of vandalism and that was, I believe, the very last time that either Jessica or I ever stepped foot inside that building!

So then, when the newly refurbished library reopens its doors in June, it is a chance for me (and possibly Jessica) to start again from the beginning, bury the fearful memories thinking about a life of juvenile delinquency and save ourselves a few pound in the process.

Time has moved on quite considerably since 1993 and the library as well as modern society are quite different from back then. The truth is that generally speaking, for many reasons, the humble library book is no longer a means of entertainment for the masses, people are either too busy to invest in the time it takes too read a novel and would prefer watch the film instead, or are not reading in schools in the quantity and quality that we would come to expect.

People who read religiously are just as much to blame, and I use myself here as an example - as a person who finds it much easier and convenient to browse Amazon from my computer or phone and place an order which invariably arrives by courier the very next day. I can do this within the comfort of my lounge or whilst wedged between two fellow commuters on the train on my way home.

There are also a third set of people, the new crew, who read books, but in the form of an electronic copy on a Kindle or other handheld device. They buy books at a much cheaper price and have them delivered immediately via the airwaves from a retailer of their choice, which is just a more clinical, soulless exercise of convenience than my own method of sourcing reading material.

Which is why, keeping a thriving library and events such as, “World Book Day” are so important. We shouldn’t need an incentive, or a reminder to encourage children to read. We shouldn’t deny children free and easy access to a range of literature and the lands of fantasy dreamt from the depths of an authors imagination.

It’s not just make belief worlds of wizards and witchcraft which enable children to disappear into chasms of fiction. Literature teaches us about everyday things such as; history, humanity, general knowledge; geography and culture. But most importantly of all, it fuels our own creativity and fills our minds with ideas and inspiration, teaches us that anything is possible.

A friend of mine recently said that they’d never actually read a book in their life, which I actually found quite sad, like people who suffer through poverty or famine. You’ve got at your fingertips a window into which beyond lies infinite realms of fun, laughter, entertainment, comedy, sadness and much, much more besides.

Granted, it is a little bit of investment of your time, but that comes for free, the wealth of the end rewards though, are rich and plentiful.

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