I have been reading more non-fiction than ever recently, moving away from the science and medical themed books I covered for the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist to memoirs about all things literary, specifically writing, libraries and children’s literature. Here are three titles I recommend to bookworms everywhere:
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens is an account of her attempt to write a novel by living in the Falkland Islands for three months using funding from her Global Fellowship at the end of her creative writing course at Boston University. After arriving in Stanley where many of the 2,500 residents are based, she lived in self-imposed isolation on the uninhabited Bleaker Island for several weeks, believing that a total lack of distraction would be beneficial for her levels of creativity and productivity. For her stint on Bleaker Island, she had to pack all of her food supplies, restricting herself to just over 1,000 calories a day living mostly on instant porridge and Ferrero Rocher with just a copy of the film ‘Eat Pray Love’ on her laptop for company. Despite the unusual setting, Stevens’ experience of writing procrastination will resonate with anyone who has ever had an essay deadline to meet, even if her expectations and lack of preparation for some aspects of her trip are a tad infuriating in places. Extracts of her fiction are interspersed throughout and while these chapters are variable in quality and pad out what would otherwise be a very slim book, I think they are worth reading to get a sense of her creative output at the time. Overall, this is an interesting and often very funny account of a unique travel experience which proved to be inspiring for Stevens in the end, even if it wasn’t quite in the way she had initially bargained for. Continue reading
Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature (the very first in the world to receive the accolade in 2004) and in between going to events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week, I visited a few of the literary attractions and bookshops that the city has to offer.
The National Library of Scotland
The National Library of Scotland has its main base in Edinburgh’s Old Town on George IV Bridge and is home to some 24 million printed items including one of the world’s largest collections of maps. As it is a research library, the reading rooms can only be accessed if you are a member but there are temporary exhibitions for visitors including displays of flyers and programmes from the Edinburgh Festival which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The main exhibition running at the moment is ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley’ which documents the Endurance expedition and rescue in 1914-16 and includes diaries, photographs, letters and other items from various archives. Admission is free and it’s well worth a look if you’re passing by. Continue reading
It was reported last week that some libraries in Birmingham have “stopped buying books and newspapers” and are requesting donations from the public. Yet just two years earlier, the city had been celebrating the opening of the very shiny state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham which was built at a cost of £188 million. It is the largest civic library in Europe and also features a gallery, theatre, recording studio and extensive archives. However, it is the smaller libraries in the city where the requests have appeared, as the Library of Birmingham itself does not accept donations. Continue reading
Thousands of volunteers and institutions will be getting involved with World Book Night tomorrow and giving away around 250,000 special editions of 20 different books to people in their communities. While World Book Day celebrates reading specifically for children, World Book Night was established in 2011 as an alternative celebration for adults. 35% of the population in the UK never read for pleasure and World Book Night is about reaching as many people as possible who don’t regularly read, particularly in prisons, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters. As well as improving literacy and employability, reading has profound positive effects including social interaction through participating in book groups, as well as general well-being and happiness.
For the printed book purist, the mere suggestion of libraries lending eBooks conjures up images of empty shelves, redundant librarians and tumbleweeds drifting across abandoned buildings. However, leaving aside sentimental arguments about the superiority or inferiority of the different formats, the reality is that many libraries now offer a selection of eBooks available for download. Although eBook lending is growing, several questions need to be asked about the future development of this new technology. Most importantly, with so many libraries under significant financial pressure, are eBooks actually worth the investment?
The Ministry of Justice has recently banned prisoners in the UK from receiving books sent by friends and relatives. According to the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, the new restrictions on parcels received by inmates are part of an “incentives and earned privileges” scheme and aims to prevent drugs and other illegal items being smuggled into prisons.
I read an interesting article in The Guardian today in which Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories series, claims that libraries ‘have had their day’ and that the concept behind them, namely offering the impoverished access to books, no longer applies in an era of compulsory education. I have a feeling his views are only shared by a tiny minority of people. Continue reading