Top critical review
Where We Read
on 14 May 2014
This collection of twenty-three essays and short stories celebrates the influence and importance of libraries. It was written as part of an initiative to secure greater funding for public libraries in the United Kingdom. Some persons, places, and events referenced by the authors will be unfamiliar to an American reader. But the book transcends its original purpose and can be entertaining and informative to readers and borrowers outside of the UK.
Some of my favorite chapters are:
Alan Bennett's "Baffled at a Bookcase" contains some well-chosen excerpts, such as this one from "Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Wolf": "Hopkins was never without a book. It wasn't that he was particularly fond of reading; he just liked to have somewhere to look. A book makes you safe. Shows you're not out to pick anybody up. Try it on. With a book you're harmless. Though Hopkins was harmless without a book."
Seth Godin's "The Future of the Library" praises librarians as much more than custodians of books. "The librarian isn't a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user."
China Mieville's "The Booksteps" accompanies a girl who comes to school prepared for a visit to the library. Over-prepared, it seems at first.
Tom Holland's "The Library of Babylon" begins with a discussion of Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel." The author then describes the historical library of Babylon and leads readers on a tour of other famous historical libraries. He lends depth to our sometimes simplistic view of libraries as unassuming buildings full of cluttered bookshelves.
Not all of the offerings are as entertaining. There are too many breathless reimaginings of formative childhood experiences in and near libraries. None of them are actually bad, but there are just too many, highlighting their common images, emotions, and lessons learned. This makes them seem cliché-ridden--more than they should. More targeted invitations to contribute and a stronger editorial hand might have prevented or corrected for this.
Still, it's a fairly good collection and worth your selective attention.