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The Library Book - Various. Profile Books 2012. Published in support of The Reading Agency. What's the point of libraries? When we hear of libraries closing there's an instinctive urge to protest but, honestly, should we be bothered? I've not visited a library for two years and a straw poll among my friends reveals none have visited one in living memory. When did you last visit a library?. But deep down I feel libraries should be part of our society so I was hoping The Library Book would help me understand why. The Library Book includes contributions from Julian Barnes, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Lucy Mangan, Alan Bennett, Stephen Fry, Susan Hill and a host of other worthies who one would hope could help in this debate. Unfortunately, most of them have tackled the subject of libraries in the same way: a wander down Nostalgia Avenue wearing rose-tinted glasses and reminiscing about visits to a library when they were a child (None of them are brave enough to admit that they haven't visited a library in months or years). It makes for a nice read but it's not very helpful. There are some notable exceptions. Seth Godin, Karin Slaughter and Bella Bathurst start to ask pertinent questions about library usage and their value in the future. Seth Godin interestingly suggests that we may need librarians in the future but we may not need libraries. Tom Holland is the one essay I found particularly insightful. His discussion on the history of libraries and their role in society puts the current debate about them into perspective and starts to help you understand better whether libraries should be storing books, ebooks, DVDs or computer games (and which ones). And his tale of Seleucus, a megalomaniac general who sat for a time on the throne of Babylon, serves as warning to all: "A century or so after his death, he was remembered with mingled horror and admiration as a man who had sought 'to burn all the books in the world, because he wanted the calculation of time to begin with himself'." You'll find something enjoyable to read in The Library Book (and its profits go The Reading Agency which encourages reading among people of all ages so that's a good enough reason on its own to buy the book). But what you won't find in the pages is a reason why we need libraries in 2012 or precisely what their purpose should be. Can someone write such a book please. Alan Cleaver
The English Village by Martin Wainwright Michael O'Mara Books 2011 Warm, charming, quintessentially English, rambling, full of colour - Martin Wainwright is all these and more which is why The English Village is such a delightful book to read. This is not a historical reference book - how could it be at just 192 pages - and makes only a vague attempt to mention all aspects of villages and village life from their origins to the present day. Rather Mr Wainwright - Northern Editor of The Guardian - dips into the subject like a kid in Mrs Miggin's sweet shop and picks out some of the brighter and tastier bits of trivia. If anything, an attempt to impose a structure on this book forces Mr Wainwright to talk at too much length about some of the duller aspects of village life and the reader welcomes his return to the fireside-chat style at which the author excels. There are also some laugh out loud moments: "...or at Mavis Enderby in Lincolnshire, whose shared sign with a neighbouring village is often converted by wags to read: 'To Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Enderby - the gift of a son'." But for the most part this is a book which will just keep you smiling. He takes a look at the role of the church, of festivals, of horticulture, of architecture and of the pub - but can't resist wandering off down Trivia Lane when the fancy takes him. And these meanderings down't lonnin are the best parts of the book. Here he muses on the truth behind the romantic image of the village and its possible soundtrack: "Sentimental paintings of rosy-cheeked maidens at the gates of their cottages, which do indeed tend to have Jane Austen's green-painted shutters and hollyhocks abounding in their gardens, should really be studied with a soundtrack of terminal coughing from a tuberculosis victim indoors, and a scratch-and-sniff facility to release the stink of ordure, rotting food and drains." Passing references to hollyhocks, community-run pubs and English 'model villages' abroad only whet the reader's appetite to explore further the many aspects of the English village. The brevity of the book reflects the wide-angle lens approach to the subject with the occasional zooming in on the strange or charming side of English village life an echo of Mr Wainwright's Guardian-sized features on said topics. The only frustration is a feeling at the end of the book that we haven't really stayed long enough in one place to fully get to know the nooks, crannies and characters which really go to make up the English village. I can't help thinking back to my home village: Old Bilton, near Rugby in Warwickshire. I can instantly recall so many aspects of the village life that Mr Wainwright barely touches on (if at all): The sweet shop, the village green, the post office, the shops and shopkeepers, the ghosts, the tragedies, the legends of hidden treasure, the pranks, the buttercross, the village characters, the Derby and Joan club, the schools, Magnet Lane, Old Tom, bonfire night, New Year's Eve - and so it goes on. It's of no matter. It's the title of the book that's not quite right rather than the content or the way it's written ('Aspects of an English Village' might have been better). I just hope it's not too long before Mr Wainwright publishes a sequel: Old Bilton - An English Village might be a good one.
MisterBus posted a topic in Non FictionHow Not To Be A Professional Footballer by Paul Merson Published by HarperSport (2011) IT'S hard to know how to react to this book. Paul Merson comes across as such a 'cheeky chappie', a 'loveable rogue' that you can't help but pick up his biography and start reading it with a huge smile across your face. But then you start to read about the drink, drugs and gambling. It's like watching a road crash in slow motion and being unable to do anything but watch it unfold in front of your eyes. This is an autobiography in the true state of the word: it's me, me, me all the way through. His family - who must have suffered terribly during his addictive and compulsive behaviour - barely get a mention. Paul appears too wrapped up in his own life to write about anyone else. It would, however, be fascinating to read his first wife's biography. He tells how he had it all as a professional footballer but squandered it all. His demise began on receiving his first pay packet at Arsenal - a fellow player took him to the Bookies and he blew the lot. Paul was so ashamed he told his parents that he had been mugged on the way home. And so began a life of gambling and lying. And drinking. Having decided that Paul is the most despicable person on the planet, I then found that I was starting to feel sympathy for him. After all, here was a man who obviously had a serious problem. It's clear this is not just a case of someone determined to enjoy life irrespective of who he hurts on the way. This is someone who has a mental problem - an addictive personality, that needs to keep getting a quick-fix buzz. Be that from scoring goals, gambling, drink, drugs or whatever. Trying to decipher the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is Paul Merson proves to be a pointless task. Paul pulls no punches but it's going to need a lot more than this book to understand what is really going on in this man's mind. This book is more banter than biography and there's no doubt more left out than included in. And the material included in the book is doubtless given plenty of entertaining spin. It is at once a brutally honest book and a very funny one. Probably just like the man himself.
Sold For A Farthing - Clare Kipps Published 1953 by Frederick Muller Ltd MY top ten books of all time include the predictable mix of the worthy (Plato's The Last Days of Socrates), the classic (Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit) and the personal (The Green Stone by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman). But following a discovery a few days ago I can now include the unexpected: Sold For A Farthing by Clare Kipps. It is only 72 pages long. It was written by a non-professional writer. And it tells the story of a sparrow. Clare Kipps was an Air Raid Warden in London. In July 1940 she returned home to find on her doorstep a day-old sparrow which, miraculously, responded to her nursing. It had, however, a deformed wing which meant it stayed the rest of its life in Clare's home. The sparrow - Clarence - became tame. So tame, in fact, that Clare was able to take it on her rounds in London's East End. Children (and adults) sitting huddled together in fear of Hitler's bombing campaigns immediately burst into smiles when they realised their Air Raid Warden brought with her a pet sparrow - a sparrow happy to perform a programme of 'tricks'. It is this backdrop of World War II which makes this story so poignant. While men were slaughtering each other by the millions, Clare and her friends do all they can to save, and care for, one sparrow. The title - Sold For A Farthing - is a Biblical reference: that if God cares for a sparrow that you can buy for a farthing, then how much more must he care for you. The irony isn't lost on Clare. On its most basic level, this is a simple touching tale of a woman caring for a sick sparrow. And the book can be enjoyed if read only as that (there are even photos of Clarence performing some of his tricks). Just as you can enjoy Jonathan Livingstone Seagull as a story about a seagull. But there are deeper questions here for those who care to ask them. For example, there's a quote at the start from CS Lewis about whether it is man's duty to tame animals, rather than leave them in a 'wild' state. Clare (a widow) says Clarence was not a pet. Rather that they shared an intimate friendship (he often 'nested' in her bed with her). By the end of the book she is writing "This little person - for it becomes increasingly difficult to me to think of him as a mere bird...". But does the sparrow become more human, or does she become more 'mother hen'. What are we to make of this: "After breakfast (if the siren allowed) came the morning scrap. The bed would be cleared for action and I would sit at one end and the sparrow, looking like a miniature eagle, at the other. Then he would rush at me, tail spread and wings outstretched, and hold down my hand with one tiny claw while he hammered it with his beak like a miner with a pickaxe. He would then retreat only to return in fury to the attack - pecking, pinching, tumbling and scolding as the wild sparrows do in the hedgerows. But when I said sternly 'Now, now! That's enough!" he would simmer down and flutter his fan until his fed." To protect her eyes during these mock fights she took to wearing goggles. Clarence and Clare have their share of adventures on the way. The house is bombed (he survives), they are caught in a bomb raid while out at night and on one occasion a cat gets into Clarence's room. Clare's inexperience as a writer does mean she glosses over these. So, infuriatingly she says at the start of Chapter Five: "There is little of interest to record in the life of my sparrow from the end of his sixth year until his serious illness and partial recovery in his twelfth."! But it is perhaps for the best that the publisher didn't rush round a ghost-writer and Clare's matter-of-fact style allows this story to be told simply and starkly. That said, you'll no doubt be shedding a tear or two at Clarence's death. He lived 12 years (most text books will tell you the life expectancy of a sparrow is three years) and the bird-lover/scientist will no doubt find much of interest in this diary. The lover of mysticism or the supernatural may also find something in this book. Such as this throwaway line in the Prologue: "When I was born, a magpie pecked three times on the window as the nurse announced that a puny and significant infant was a girl. My mother took it as an ill omen - for she had a strange horror of magpies - and she died within three days. But neither magpie nor raven has ever been to me a harbinger of sorrow. I have had friends among the wild songsters and have been on nodding terms with a nightingale, but no bird has ever been so constant and beloved a companion as my little house sparrow." And there's a spine-chilling coincidence towards the end of the sparrow's life when Clare asks a photographer to take some pictures of her feathered friend. She randomly pulls a book off the shelf and opens it for the sparrow to be pictured 'reading'. Only when the photo is developed and printed does she realise that the book (of religious scripture) is open at a page that says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing?" Make of that what you will. Clare was a friend of the poet and author Walter de la Mare and he encouraged her to write an account of Clarence. It was published in 1953 and became a minor sensation. The book appears to have been rarely out of print until the Seventies. And while it may be out of print now, second-hand copies are easily obtained. I urge you to get hold of one. Dickens it ain't. But it is without doubt a most remarkable book. P.S. It would be nice to know more about the author, Clare Kipps, if anyone knows any biographical details.