I first found out about The Library Book in a small addendum to a piece in the Guardian by Lucy Mangan, one of my favourite columnists, announcing that she was one of the contributors. Investigating further, I became even more interested upon finding out that the contributors also included such impressive figures as Stephen Fry, China Miéville and Alan Bennett. Yet, even having known beforehand the amount of talent involved I have to say that the book far exceeded my expectations.
In essence The Library Book is simply twenty five highly skilled journalists, writers, broadcasters and other public figures coming together to each write a short piece, whether a fictional story, essay or deeply personal recollection, focusing on their love of libraries. The book comes in at under 200 pages and yet manages to include a breathtaking degree of variety. From Mangan’s hilarious description of the rules she would put in place if she were ever to set up her own library, to Bennett’s engrossing and fantastically detailed account of the importance libraries played in his early life and education, to Julie Myerson’s story of how libraries helped her become a writer – which was honestly the most inspirational thing that I have read in the last year.
Given the situation that many libraries now find themselves its no surprise that many of the contributions have a political spin. While references to specific politicians may quickly become dated the central message – that libraries are vital resources that can not only help the disadvantaged but also bring communities together – is timeless. In the words of Karin Slaughter – “Kids who read become students who do well in school. Students who do well in school go to college. College students graduate to good jobs and pay higher taxes. Libraries don’t service only left-wingers or right. They don’t judge by class, race or religion. They service everyone in their community, no matter their circumstances.” Indeed The Library Book shows how these fantastic institutions influenced successful people from all backgrounds and walks of life. This book should be required reading for all those in government who are considering closing down libraries.
In short, this is both an entertaining and stimulating read that should appeal to anyone who loves books. The skill of the contributors is visible from the outset and the short length only serves to make its laudable message all the clearer and means that the book it accessible even to those who don’t have much free time.