“Close your eyes, listen to this recording of the sound of rain on a window.  Imagine yourself, warm and dry inside a library.  What libraries do you remember being in?  Where would you like to be now?  Imagine that in this library, on the shelves, are all the books, magazines and DVDs that you’ve read during your life.  What has reading meant to you at different stages in your life?  You might want to go to a shelf and pick a book you remember enjoying.  Where were you?  What was happening at that time?” 

What a powerful opener Jolene gave to us, leading to us having so much to say to each other!  Just as the people reading in a library may, in their minds, be travelling in many different directions, those of us on the Zoom call had a variety of experiences to relate, and much to think about afterwards as we wrote up our individual pieces for this week’s post.

Tony Goulding

The thing which struck me most during this week’s session was the huge variety of my reading matter over my lifetime.  There is a richness in books which can be experienced throughout one’s life; sometimes with fiction of different genres and sometimes with various subjects of non-fiction.   There is also the additional pleasure in being able to retain the book enabling the joy of reading it to be repeated. I have a number of bookcases which as you can see from these pictures are full to overflowing.

The first bookcase is one inherited from the family home which evokes some of my earliest memories associated with books.  I remember specifically it contained a collection of English Classics such as Thackeray’s, Vanity Fair, Oliver Goldsmith’s, The Vicar of Wakefield and The Diary of Samuel Pepys alas, none of which I actually read!  The bookcase now holds a random and eclectic mix of books obtained from my childhood to the present.

The subject of books leads naturally on to recollections of libraries.  In the late 1990s to the early 2000s I spent many happy hours in Manchester’s Central Library before its “upgrade”.  I loved the circular reading room with its radiating table.  It had a central enquiry section at which I frequently requested obscure books from the basement as I attempted to complete a fiendishly difficult postal quiz.  This bookmark was created by my maternal grandfather in the 1930s showing the magnificent reading room.

Finally, I would like to share these photographs of a couple of “family heirloom” books. The Bridal Bouquet was a love token given by one of my great-grandfathers, William Thomas Clarke to his wife, Bessie, on their 7th wedding anniversary the 7th May, 1885.

The 1812 edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is inscribed to an R. Cunningham on the 10th February, 1814. The romantic in me entertains the rather fanciful notion that it was carried into the battlefield of Waterloo.

The title page of A Dictionary of the English Language, with an illustration of a statue of Samuel Johnson from St. Paul's Church

Linda Rigby

I hadn’t realised how passionate I felt about reading until I started to think about what role reading has played in my life.

I did not grow up in a household that owned books.  My mother was a member of a private library at the rear of the local newsagents, where she would select a romantic novel each week to be read in bed then returned for another the following Saturday morning at a cost of six old pence.  When the council opened a municipal library, I remember my mother filling in two small forms to enable us to have library tickets.  Inside each book was a card that was removed when you borrowed a book, and the card was placed inside your pocketed treasured library card and filed in a long wooden drawer, the book was then stamped with the date it was to be returned.  How different from today when I can renew and order books on line.  There are also audio and ebooks that can be enjoyed on a smart phone, tablet, laptop or computer, together with a huge selection of magazines. What joy!

The cover of Bernardine Evaristo's novel, Girl, Woman, Other.
My current library book

When I came to Manchester in 1966, I remember the librarian of the college telling the whole new intake in the main hall about the facilities of the college library without using any visual aids.  I came to use it almost daily as I shared a room with three other girls, so the library was the ideal place to have peace and quiet.  Mrs Dobbin also told us of the studying facilities at Central Reference Library, which she described as “being round like a ring”.  I was baffled, how could a library be round?  Fifty years later when I did a tour of the top of the £50 million pound renovation of the building, the penny dropped when I discovered you could actually walk all the way round, see the dome in the ceiling at the centre of the “ring” and have fantastic views of Manchester through the windows.

My husband was an avid reader. He loved to read to our two children using funny voices. I now have the pleasure of reading Nursery Rhymes and stories to my three-year-old grandson on FaceTime.  Sometimes as a treat my son reads us both a bedtime story, which brings back memories of extended family holidays in Filey when my sister in law would read a chapter of a Roald Dahl book such as Danny Champion of the world each evening as a serial.

The cover of The Gruffalo written by by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Sheffler.  It shows the large smiling Gruffalo in the woods and a little mouse walking along a path.
One of my grandson’s favourite stories

There have been periods of my life when my mind has been too busy to read fiction. What a good catch up time lockdown has been!  Friends and family have recommended lots of good books which have been an ideal escape from the worries of the day.  The two book groups I belong to have extended my range of reading enormously and given wonderful support in these extraordinary times.

Linda's hand holding Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell.  The dark blue cover has an illuminated H with gold foliage, red berries, a gold owl at the top right and a gold rabbit running downwards on the bottom left
The latest excellent book group choice

Jolene Sheehan

I wasn’t sure how important reading was to me until I listened to Linda and Lindy talk about how it has impacted on their lives past and present. Then, as I was listening to them both talk so enthusiastically, my head was buzzing with realisations and memories.  I could barely keep a lid on my thoughts and kept shouting out like an eager and impulsive child!  So much came to mind but I will need to discipline myself to write about just 3 recollections. 

Firstly, I remembered Story Teller, a fortnightly publication which my nan bought me from the age of about 6 or 7.  It contained tapes that mirrored the words in the magazine.  Each one had a range of children’s stories in it, some were traditional folk tales like Anansi the Spiderman, some children’s tales such as Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat.  I would listen, enthralled, as lovely voiced actors like Richard Briars and Sheila Hancock read out the tales, following along the brightly coloured pages, learning new words and imagining new worlds as I went.  I think these experiences gave my both my inner life and my reading skills a massive boost.   

A very precious memory starts with the school library and reading generally.  They were initially my only trusted companions in the first term of high school.  The new environment, uniform, faces and spaces totally overwhelmed me, so I would retreat to my quiet, book lined sanctuary at break and lunch times.  When I wasn’t there, I would read by myself on a bench just outside.  With hindsight, I think this must have painted me as a forlorn and introverted figure, perfect bait for a kind-hearted fish called Julie.  Julie came to chat to me and drew me into the ocean of her friendship.  33 years later, we are still close friends.  Freed from solitude, I haven’t stop talking since.  I am ever so glad for the accidental false advertising that brought us together! 

Finally, I thought about how much I have enjoyed reading during recent months. I have found a lot of solace and sense in the novels and non-fiction books I have read.  They have allowed me to process lockdown and all my associated anxieties and angst using my imagination and reason.  I am so grateful for how reading is a way of both expanding outwards from my single perspective and also escaping from difficult moments and delving into my inner resources.  Maybe, this is a big reason why I am so interested in reading and listening to other people’s stories too? 

A woman's hand holding open a paperback book so that she can  read it.  In the foreground is a coffee pot and  plant on a table.
Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Jean Thompson

I was so disappointed that I couldn’t join the group on Saturday, especially as we were going to discuss reading.  One of my all-time favourite things.

I can remember very clearly the moment when I was 5, just started school and could suddenly understand what the black shapes on the white page meant.  Janet and John, mother and father and the dog (Spot?). It was magic!

As a child, one of the highlights of the week was to go to the library.  We did not have many books in the home, but the library was well used by all of us.  Even the rather fierce children’s librarian who would inspect your hands to make sure they were clean before you were allowed to touch any of her precious books, did not put me off.  Going to bed early just so I could read a bit more of the latest book, even sneaking a torch up to bed so I could read under the covers, such happy times.

An open book with light shining on it, set against the dark background of a magical forest.
Photo by Victor on Pexels.com

All through Primary School reading and English was my joy.  When I went to High school, I lost some of the delight when we had to read so many things as necessity not pleasure. Although I still liked English, I was not so appreciative of having to dissect and review books and poems.  I remember reading Jane Eyre when I was at Primary School and having read it several times since, I am sure I did not understand all the references and nuances at age 10 or 11, but it did not matter.  I was still able to put myself in Jane’s place and the passage where she is put by her cruel aunt into the Red Room as a punishment will always horrify me.

When my son and daughter were children, my husband and I both looked forward to the nightly bedtime stories.  I was able to revisit some of my favourite children books, and as they got older, found some new ones to enjoy with them.  I am glad to say that they are both readers, my daughter especially and we swap recommendations, not always to each other’s taste!

What a great topic with all its lovely memories.

Margaret Williams

In thinking of so many aspects of reading, which have been and continue to be such an important part of my life, I recalled my many years of teaching primary children.  I think that all children love stories, and I loved reading to them.  I liked to keep a book on hand so that I could read in sections – perhaps a chapter, or an episode.   This could be used a little bit like a bribe, because I would promise the next instalment each afternoon if we tidied up in time.  This worked like a dream! 

One of the books I remember was Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse written by Ursula Moray Williams.  (I recently found a hard-backed copy in the wonderful Oxfam Bookshop here in Chorlton and couldn’t resist buying it, my old paper back being left at the school when I retired) This was a perfect choice because it was almost written in episodes and each time left the poor little wooden horse in a desperate situation so the children couldn’t wait to find out how he coped.  The things we teachers did! 

Lucy Stephens

I’ve never been much of a reader, my English teacher at school was hardly inspirational, so I didn’t really develop that much of an interest and those around me at home didn’t have their heads in books either as some of the others mentioned.   I do however, remember my mum taking me and my brother to Shrewsbury Library, which is where our town’s most famous son, Charles Darwin, attended school, he sits out front in statue form looking at the castle.   It’s an amazing building and I can remember the children’s library being tucked away in the corner with lots of beams separating the shelves.   My brother and I played silent hide and seek in there most times we went.   

Despite not being a bookworm, I love books themselves and all of the information they contain, some of the books in the John Rylands Library are fascinating, they’re so old and precious!   

Babs and I had a lovely chat about reading self-development books and the impact that this has had on our lives.   Neither of us are big readers, but at the same time, we both have several books on the go at once!  This is the benefit of reading non-fiction I think, you can dip in as you fancy.   I’m currently reading Self Compassion by Kristin Neff, which I highly recommend.  I feel that it will be one of those books that changes my life for the better a little bit.  I don’t read it every day or even every week.  I’m letting it sink in slowly so I really take it on board.   

It was really interesting hearing Margaret Williams talk about teaching children to read and how it was used as a treat if the children packed up quickly.  I teach English as a Foreign Language, so I have taught many reading lessons to students.  They often complain “not reading again!”  “I know how to read.  I’ve been reading for 52 years!”    It was amazing watching some of the students painstakingly translating every single word as they took 20 minutes to read a page that had already been simplified.  As native speakers we read approximately 300 words a minute.  I banned dictionaries in class, and we teach the vocabulary that’s crucial to understand the texts.  

We take lots of reading skills for advantage as native speakers: skimming, scanning, reading for gist etc.  It’s very easy to forget this when reading in another language.   The amount of time I spent reading about reading for my teaching diploma was also rather bizarre – there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.   I’ve not yet had experience of teaching reading online.  This soon happen soon though and it will be interesting to see how I manage to ban dictionaries this time! 

 

Lucy reading a book by Francoise Grellet with the title Developing reading skills, from the Cambridge Language Teaching Library

Babs Cain

Again, I was fortunate enough to share my experiences with lovely Lucy.  Jolene set the mood by taking us on a journey through a library, accompanied by beautiful sound. She encouraged us to imagine walking to a shelf to discover which book we would choose. 

In my mind before I’d even got there, I imagined I would select my favourite book A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson but to my surprise I chose Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.  It is the true story of a 15-year-old drug addict.  A harrowing story of events during the horrific journey of her life.  I feel like I am meant to read it again now.

I was a bit sad to look back and realise that books were sadly lacking in my life as a youngster, I only read one book, Anne of Green Gables.  I loved her dearly and so wanted to be her and especially, to marry Gilbert Blithe!  I also enjoyed the TV series very much as an adult. 

It brought home to me that I have spent very little time in libraries but this hasn’t stopped me reading during my adult life.  I have owned and read hundreds of books both fiction and non-fiction.  I was an avid reader for many years until technology became my new God.  I loved Historical novels and Thrillers, even Mills and Boon (this has me smiling as I write, who was I?) followed by religious books and later Self Development and Spiritual books.  I have loved each one of these genres as each fitted who I was at these times of my life. 

I continue to read self-development/spiritual books as I wish to evolve for the whole of my life. 

A woman's hand choosing books from a tightly packed bookshelf
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Margaret Kendall

I’ve always been a keen reader.  I love that feeling of being carried away by a novel, whether to a world seen through the eyes of someone else, life in the past or in an imagined future, set in places I’ve visited or am unlikely ever to visit myself.  So much is invested in creating virtual reality adventures, but, for me, turning the pages of a printed book is enough to transport me elsewhere.  I’ve discovered the same magic through audio or electronic books, but still prefer reading in an armchair, with a couple of hours in which to become engrossed.

During the session, the book I revisited in my personal library, was Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, written in 1976.  I remember the first time I read it, just after I’d been invited to move in with friends living in a housing cooperative.  It really spoke to me then, as it presented a possible future of communal living without fixed gender roles, with racial harmony and care for the environment.  I don’t often re-read novels, but I enjoyed it again about ten years ago.  One of the things that amazed me the second time around, is that she almost foretold smart watches, as the characters look things up and communicate with each other through the “kenners” they wear on their wrists! I might read it again, I still have my original copy.

Cover of Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of time published by the Women's Press. The cover shows a seated black woman amidst tropical plants, with a butterfly on the bottom right hand corner.

People have often said to me “you must love books to work in a library”.  I do, but thinking back over my career, it’s been much more about people than books in whatever format.  It was so satisfying to help someone find what they needed.   I loved my community role in inner city public libraries in the 1980s, and then, as a lecturer in librarianship during the 1990s and most of the 2000s, I was lucky to journey through the development of the World Wide Web, the expansion of electronic resources and online learning.  In the final chapter of my career, I felt privileged be a librarian again, this time in a team supporting the School of Art.  I’ve learnt so much along the way, but there’s so much more I’d like to add to the shelves of the personal library Jolene asked me to picture!  

In retirement, I now browse library shelves without pressure, and enjoy doing family history research online.  But most of all, I enjoy belonging to a lovely book group which stretches the range of novels beyond what I’d choose to read myself.  Some of our best discussions have been when we’ve had differing responses to our monthly choices.  We’ve continued to meet via Zoom during lockdown.  That’s certainly something I would never have imagined possible in the 1970s.  But maybe Marge Piercy did!

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

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