Thursday, January 08, 2009

Books, books and books

I do miss going to the library. I mean I could go to the small local one but it's not the same as the London ones I used to go to. I once belonged simultaneously to two North London ones and a big one in Westminster and would happily get piles of books from each and goodness alone knows how I ever managed to cope with reading them all. But somehow I did.

I also used to enjoy the atmosphere inside. All still and calm, a place where you could find a random chair in the corner and just sit and browse and the hours would drift by.I've seen people do more or less the same thing in bookshops but to me it just isn't right.If you want to read a book then either do it at the library or buy it from the shop; don't sit and read it in the shop. Likewise with newspapers- I see people stand and read the paper bold as brass in the shop and then put it down and leave it crumpled for someone else to buy.

Anyway, back to the library. Because we live in a bit of France to which many English people have moved there is actually a library of all our expat community's unwanted books.These books reside not a stone's throw from where I live and are the sort of books you see at airports, in quite good condition and there are in fact some that I would probably spend a day casually reading. The thing is that it does not look like a library; it is in fact a small room in an Anglo-French community centre and it just does not have the atmosphere that I crave. There are no tables or chairs to lay piles out and then sort through what you might take home; there are no old people sheltering from the cold; there is no librarian - you just self-stamp, in short there is no sort of feeling at all.

I've always been a buyer of books, as has Mr Fancy. Consequently we have hundred and hundreds of the buggers and it would just be nice to put an end to this compulsion and be able to go and order the new 'must read book', according to the TLS or Guardian, from a library. I could no doubt order a copy from the library we have in our town but then of course it would be in French which, although I speak it to a fair standard, I do not want to spend hours reading.

Oh well, who was it said there is no furniture as charming as books*

*Sydney Smith that's who


Henry the Dog said...

Am I the first? My mum misses libraries too. We don't live in a big 'ex-pat' area and mum's French isn't good enough. It's the one thing mum misses more than anything. She ends up getting stuff from Amazon all the time, which can be quite expensive. There was an English library where we lived in Switzerland and she liked that, but it wasn't somewhere to sit and read. Mum loved being able to spend hours in big libraries. I think it's probably one of the things she misses most about the UK other than Sainsburys' spiced lamb curry:)

cheshire wife said...

We have a travelling library visit our village but I can never remember which day it comes so have never used it. If I want to go to a proper libary I have to go to the next village and sometimes that is more inconvenient than going to a shop to buy a book. I suppose the laziest and probably the easiest way to buy a book is via the Internet.

Jennysmith said...

Gosh FF, you've made me nostalgic for when i worked in the City. I had a great choice of libraries. My fave was the one at Bishopsgate - a lovely old building, and the Barbican one too. Very different and very modern but wonderful. And a nice cup of coffee afterwards.

The local one in Twickenham is a bit rubbish to be honest.

Right, where's my coat, i'm getting off to Bishopsgate now! xxx

Lane Mathias said...

I can't get my head around people reading books in bookshops either. When I buy a book, I want it to be pristine.

Libraries? Love 'em. I can totally understand that a few books in the community centre is just not the same:-(

Frankofile said...

When I worked in London, lunchtimes were often spent at the Westminster library just north of Trafalgar Square. Same one as yours? But libraries in the UK seem chronically underfunded and at risk of closure. Sad, when the big book chains thrive.

Frankofile said...

PS well done for sending off the Wilberfoce essay

Larry M. Brow said...

As a kid, my mom was convinced that if I ever ran away from home it would be to the city library. There were even coins in a fountain so I could have fed myself.

Congrats on the essay. I'm now in the long middle of my degree and the students who started with me (and are full time) will be finishing this May. Both facts leave me a bit depressed and unenthusiastic about this Spring's classes. How long until you finish?

Dumdad said...

We have been living in Paris for about 16 years and our house is overflowing with books. Thrillers and detective paperbacks I give to friends but the books I know I'll re-read I keep. The "problem" has reached critical mass because Brainbox is a such voracious reader and he buys books all the time (oddly enough, mostly in English although French is his first language). But we all love books so it's not a hardship, it's just they take up so much space. And as for videos and DVDs.....

French Fancy... said...

Henry, even though we live in an area where there are lots of Brits in the surrounding 20k radius, we don't actually know any. We've met a few nice ones through Mr FF's ma who mingles with some art groups but, sadly, I've never met any kindred spirits out here.

By the way if you Google Book Depository you will find a book chain that sends stuff out here postage-free. I've been using them for a little while now and they've been excellent.

I don't know Sainsbury's curries. I made a nice veg one today though. Can't Uncle Hugh knock one up for her?

cheshire wife - I love the thought of a mobile library, especially after reading the Alan Bennett I recently blogged about - the Uncommon Reader. I'm currently really enjoying his 'Writing Home' book - lots of journal entries and gossipy luvvie stories.

Jenny - I've never worked in the city, always the West End and - apart from a few London walks around the historic bits (and the jack the ripper one - scary) - I don't know any EC postmarks. Yes, go to the library - you've got time now :)

Lane - we share Library Love. It used to be a Saturday morning ritual when I lived at home. They'll probably all be closed down soon, the way the world is going.

Frankie - yes, that's the one. Just down from Wyndhams Theatre (I used to work round the corner at the Albery Theatre - I think they've renamed it NoelCoward theatre or something. That is so wrong -it used to be owned by Bronson Wyndham then his son - Ian Albery- took over the chain and sold out to Stoll Moss who have now sold out to someone else.But they should have kept the old name).

anyway, wasn't it a sweet library. Maybe we were in it at the same time. I'd also sometimes while away a lunch hour or two in the National Gallery just over the road - as no doubt you did too.

The essay was a dreary slog and I'm not anticipating a very good mark. On verra and all that

French Fancy... said...

Larry - it used to be 'run away from home and join the circus'-you must have been a studious little boy to have your mom change it to library,

I've got about 2 more years to get my degree - it's the Open University - not a place you go and study in but an organisation recognised around the world as the best in home tuition. I need 360 points for a BA Honours (240 for a lower degree)- each annual course is 60 points and I'm on my third.

I'd love to go to proper classes although I'd probably switch off after 15 mins. I'm best doing it on my own really- that way I won't talk.

Don't be down about it- learning is wonderful. Never mind others are finishing first - you've also got your pottery to produce and i bet they can't do that.

Dumdad - I periodically give lighter books away to the expat library I mentioned but - like you - we've got bookshelf after bookshelf crammed full. Lucky old Brainbox (and Princess P I guess) being bi-lingual.

This Ro(a)mantic Life said...

Book donation is saving our bookshelves from collapse -- when I was a copy editor, the newsroom got lots of free preview copies of books, which are illegal to sell (even to used-book stores). Anything I took from the "free table" that I didn't want to keep has gone to the lending library at Mr. CT's office.

As for libraries themselves -- yes, I miss being able to sit and browse in one for hours (no time these days). My mother took me to a local branch once a week when I was little. One of the best parts of my childhood :)

Kathy said...

Morning FF, I am also feeling nostalgic, especially reading words like Bishopsgate, the Barbican and North London :( of course they have fab libraries here in SF and when we first arrived I spent most of my days there but it was just not the same and of course the selection was biased. I totally agree with you on the bookshop reading Barnes and Noble is full of people actually sitting on the floor, in the isle's reading the books, it can be quite dangerous looking for a book there, I have nearly tripped over someones legs on more than one occassion.
Last time I was back in London my son was looking for a Fancy dress outfit (he was going to be a ganster (don't ask) and wanted an old suit, so he took me to the charity shops,(there were seven) he found the perfect suit for 2.50pounds. I on the other hand found a dozen or more books OMGosh it was book heaven and even better cheap oh so cheap, I think we spent like 10pounds and came home with three carrier-bags full. I even got 'the forgotten garden' for 1.95pnds which is not even out here in the USA yet. So get on over to the UK charity shops and stock up, it's for a good cause. I have all but finished sorting out the boxes and now have my pile of books to read :) good luck re Wilberforce.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

The best library I've come across is outside London in Newcastle:

It's very atmospheric and has old cubby holes and ancient sitting rooms which feel like those of victorian times. I really hope they do not modernise it.

If you are ever up would be lovely to meet up. I could take you to it as it is just round the corner from the Central Station.

Have you read any of Borges' stuff? He was obsessed with libraries and rightly so too.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

(My two year is tryingb hto blog too...maybe he is doing a better job than I am!) Obviously as lovely as the Lit and Phil is it cannot compete with the British Library. That said it is still pretty unique!

Blu said...

I can just imagine you in a huge library in London. I dont miss a library because in the little town in Dorset where we lived before the library was so wee you could memorise the books in it.

mixedabilityME said...

British Museum Library and Senate House-Malet St. near Heal's so design and books right near each other.

Surrey still has excellent libraries. All crammed with books/DVDs/ newspapers/magazines/computers with FREE internet access-45 in Woking library alone. Classes for OAPs on computer literacy.Children's story time sessions. When I'm at home with my mum in UK, it's a pleasure to go to the places.

When I was 6 I discovered that library membership was free and ran home for mum to sign my card. 'It can't be free,sure (Irish mum)'.
'Yes,it is'.
'No one gets a library for nothing'.In Ireland it was all paid for.
I was crushed.
Dad explained to mum that it WAS free and that was that............I lived in the place when not at school or doing sports.

I read the children's section in a flash and then a kind librarian let me start on the adult section.
I always remember 'Quiet flows the Don' Sholokhov was misplaced so I got to 'S'quicker!!

I was curious about the 'Upstairs' section so braved the gritty concrete stairs one day and there was the newspaper and magazine section. Hush and rustle in this huge room.

My favourite moment was when I discovered 'Punch' and quality cartoons.

1st. memory of great cartoon:
Busy,obviously posh restaurant,snooty waiters swanning around with huge domes over plates. In the middle of the restaurant is a raised arm with a fork in hand and a pea on the fork.
A bubble containing the words,'It's tinned!'
I was laughing so hard I had to leave and was sobbing with hilarity on the concrete steps outside for ages.

I can't give a book away-ever- so have 4 libraries;one here,two in France and one in Portugal.As well as books I sneak into empty drawers at my mum's house. As my mum said to my Irish uncle recently,'Sure if she can't read something she'd die.'

nikkicrumpet said...

I just spent $148 at Barne's & Noble online. My hubby just cringes when I do my monthly book order. He's always asking why I can't just go to the library. My answer is always the same....."I NEED to own them" I don't know what it is...but I really have to OWN books...thousands of them. I borrow them out to friends and family...but I want them back. We're running out of places to put them...but I just can't stop lol. Anyone want to borrow a good murder mystery....I'm your girl...I own them all!

laurie said...

i love this post. i love libraries! i used to work at the public library, the old carnegie library in duluth, with marble steps and stained-glass windows and a soaring ceiling in the rotunda area. i love libraries. we always went every saturday when i was growing up.

now i'm old, and do i go to libraries? no. not at all anymore. i buy the books, instead...

Larry M. Brow said...


Do you have "Hit and Run" by Lawrence Block? It's the latest in his series centered on Keller, the non-sociopathic paid assassin. Brilliant.


French Fancy... said...

ContTroub - I was also bequeathed library love by childhood visits to the junior library with my mum. I can think of nothing better to pass on to children than a love of reading books. Well, obviously, there's lots of other things but you know what I mean.

The last series of The Wire (recent blog post) deals with the city's biggest newspaper and the problems they have - stuff like journos making up stories and freedom of the press. It seemed much more realistic than good old Lou Grant used to. I'd watch that with my parents and loved it. In fact with my Sopranos love when I first saw Olivia Soprano all I could think of was that she used to be Mrs Pynchon the editor.

Mama - The thing is that the bookshop readers who never buy could actually move on to the library and do it quite legitimately there (I suppose the range they want isn't there). Public libraries are getting hours and days cut all the time in the UK and it will be a travesty if finally they are no more.

We don't get charity shops here and even reading your post has made me a bit nostalgic. Then of course when Jen mentioned those city names, like you I came over all 'I do miss London'. I like the red bus picture at the top of your blog though - I meant to say.

Hadriana - that library sounds just perfect. I too would love to meet you but we seldom go 'down South' in the UK any more never mind 'up North'. Oh well you never know.

In fact a lot of the expats here get very upset because there are quite good flight and rail connections with the Southern bit of England but it is quite a kerfuffle for them to go back and forth to places like Manchester and Leeds.

I know the reputation of the British Library but I never went to the old building and I doubt I'll ever go to the new one. Although if we were in the UK still I'd apply (quite legitimately) for a student card through the OU.

Blu - I've never been in a weeny country library. I guess you also had mobile ones around the villages - such a great thing, a mobile library.

Desert - now I know who you are. And of course I can't come and visit your blog because it is inaccessible. Why don't you put some of your fabulous photos on it and open it to all?

Hope all the Christmas holidays in different countries turned out to be as good as anticipated.

I'm very glad to see you here

nikki - it is a real compulsion, isn't it. When I looked up a library quote to use at the end of the blog post there were literally hundreds to choose from, some of them by the greatest writers of our time. Books, books and books - bliss.

You must have dozens of shelves too. Last summer we decided our second bathroom was not really necessary (it used to be my dad's while he was still well enough to live with us out here). We had it turned into a book room but the books are outgrowing the shelves - and that is just in six months.

laurie - the duluth library sounds fabulous.I love rotandas. I must find some pictures of it online.

Laurie - 'non-sociopathic paid assassin' - what a superb phrase.

Nikki might not come back to see your question. she has one of the busiest blogs I've ever seen (after willows) - dozens and dozens of comments so I think she can only ever manage one visit to each blog.

French Fancy... said...

that last comment was of course meant for Larry, not Laurie. See what I'm like in the morning!

Anonymous said...

I too am obsessed by books and our furniture is clearly very charming as it consists mainly of children's toys and books! And general crap - mmm... not sure if that counts as charming?

I think it is quite OK to read books in bookshops. I mean lots of bookshops go out of their way to make your visit a reading one - they provide comfy chairs and sofas for reading in, as well as good coffee and snacks... Hell, they want you to read in their store!! I love book cafes and libraries... but these days, tend to read under the bedcovers at night with my little reading light...

Actually, I too have loads of books lying around... It would be great to set up a book swap where we could circulate books amongst us ex-pats (in Europe due to postage charges?) - sending off books we have already read and receiving ones we want to read...

Henry the Dog said...

French F - mum says you're wonderful. She'd never heard of the book depository before. She's spent LOTS of money on Amazon. She says a big THANK YOU. Uncle Hugh's not brilliant at curries. Mum says his curries don't quite taste the same. She used to go to Bradford from time to time too where there are some of the best curry houses in the country.

Lee said...

My wife would kill for a library like the one in your pic.

French Fancy... said...

LadyFi - there is something around which is for people all over the world to send each other books for nothing more than the postage incurred. Blast, I'm trying to remember what it's called. I signed up to it - that was easy - and then realised that the first step after registering is listing ten books that you want to send to people - it's a full description, ISDN numbers if poss as well. I began listing them and then got sidetracked by a 'do I really want to give this away' moment. I'll try and find it.

Henry - Bradford's curry houses are famous but they might be a bit too strong for me. I like the Korma ones, nothing to hot. A vindaloo would kill me.

Lee -that's not our library- the little pic there. Ours is nothing so swish; it's white wood panelling, an oak floor, a club chair in ecru-coloured leather and white bookshelves - it's a very summery room.

Brother Tobias said...

I do re-read books, so I like buying rather than borrowing good ones. But I do go to our local Oxfam bookshop a lot, which makes a charitable virtue of being tight-fisted. As for libraries, there is a splendid second-hand bookshop in a former church in Inverness, with a roaring open fire and a rich smell of coffee. I recommend it on a windswept Highland day.

cheshire wife said...

Ps there is an award waiting for you on my blog.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

The real shame of multiple chain book shops is that a lot of excellent second hand book shops are closing down. There was an excellent one in Hexham that went last Summer. They had original Penguins in there and all sorts. I felt really bad that the first time I crossed the threshold was because it was closing down. That cannot be right surely?

Someone mentioned the Malet St. London Uni Library...yes...that is a great one too. Brings back certain memories: I did my Spanish Degree Viva at Malet St. We were interviewed in a room with glass doors. This meant that all the other (waiting) candidates could see how the others were doing. I feel like suing retrospectively for mental cruelty. That said I still got a good degree despite being completely unnerved by the sinister process!!!

I'm convinced there is a time portal at the Lit & Phil never know - you'll be stepping into some odd, quaint little place in Quimper then lo and behold! you'll find yourself in a dusty reading room in Newcastle! ;)

Kathy said...

Me again, just booked my flights to London early March YAY!!. first stop those charity shops. will also be in Glasgow (Vanni has meetings).
My bus header painting was given to me buy an English artist who I recently purchased some sketches from (a red bus, telephone and letter box). I mentioned my blog to her and she sent that painting as an extra gift just for my blog, such a lovely and talented lady. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, I am hoping to get some serious reading done.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

I'm with you French Fancy, there is nothing like a cozy library, or a grand library, or a fair to midland library; any library at all. Here in PR we have to contend with libraries that are not open shelved...let me repeat, you cannot go into the stacks. You go to the desk, request a book, wait, wait, then wait some more and finally, a book appears or a disappointing face tells you, "no aye". So everyone breaks the rules and reads from the bookstore shelves and/or buys lots of books. Sigh. My little house is filled with books.

Frankofile said...

off-topic, but have you found this A207 blog?

French Fancy... said...

BroTob - you know what is different about france? You don't see charity shops anywhere or collecting boxes on counters (well, the latter you occasionally see for one week of the year) - it's very annoying as those blasted little centimes are not much use to anyone and - if a receptacle was placed around hither and thither- in a little while all those little bronze coins could mount up to something.

I guess the banks put the kybosh on it - are they going to want to sit and weigh out all that stuff? French bank workers? You must be joking

cheshire wife - oh thank you, m'dear. Will be over shortly.

Hadriana - I adore second-hand bookshops and in fact have a fair few books from some selected ones. I got an out of print Konrad Lorenz book I had been searching for for years in such a bookshop in York. I was so pleased.

I wish such a portal existed sometimes - I really do.

Mama - London, March, hmmmm. - let's see what I can do.

Good find - that English artist.

Cynthia - you know every time I see you I think of that bit in West Side Story - where the song America starts 'Peurto Rico' - you know the one.
Your library situation sounds dreadful, well something had to be bad out there in that exotic wonderful place

Frankofile - Thanks for that. It was mentioned on the OU students forum at the beginning of the course. Isn't it interesting? It's also very good of her to do it.

Aren O. Týr said...

I live in Newcastle and I am a member of the aforementioned Lit & Phil :-)

And yes, the library is absolutely wonderful.

Fortunately I think there is very little chance of it getting modernised. Its remarkable charm and character owe entirely to the old world feel of it; massively high dark wooden bookshelves packed to the rafters, so tall you require a ladder to access the higher shelves.

You have to pay to become a member of the library to borrow books; however you are free to read in the library as much as you wish as a non member.

To be honest, I rent few books from there purely because I always have so many books to choose from from my own personal bookshelf, because I am, and always have been, an inveterate book buyer.

So technically I don't really need to be a member. But I deliberately choose to be a paid member, not just on the off chance that I wish to borrow a particular book, but also because I wish to support the institution and everything it represents. It's a cultural nexus up here.

And, in fact, I think I shall go and visit it this afternoon, since I have today off work, and get out of my house :-)

I did use to live in Oxford years ago, and that is truly a city for book lovers. Certainly in terms of its massive bookshops (Borders, Waterstones, and of course, Blackwells): there is still something special about the gigantic Norrington room in the main non-fiction Blackwells shop on Broad Street.

For whatever reason, I always feel more at peace whenever I'm surrounded by books. And indeed, I would entirely agree there is no "furniture more charming than books".

French Fancy... said...

Hello there Aren. This Newcastle library sounds lovely - like something from another age. It's good you pay for membership even though you don't use it; I do the same thing here with the Anglo-French community library-pay to use it and then never go.

There's something indescribable about being surrounded by books. I often sit in our little white library and don't even browse one of our books - I just sit there in a kind of reverie.

Aren O. Týr said...

Hello FF,

"don't even browse one of our books - I just sit there in a kind of reverie"

I know exactly what you mean.

If you're anything like me, you're probably also struggling with the fact that there is always far, far, more books that you would like to read than you'll ever have to time to, even in an entire lifetime...

My bookshelf consists of far more books that I haven't yet read than one's that I have! I look at them, and struggle over which one to read next, even though I'm almost permanently reading about five different books at once...

And, being a typical inveterate book obsessive, even though I always have plenty of as yet unread books to choose from, I cannot but help continually buying more, as I decide at that exact moment, that I just have to read such and such next...

And that is excluding all the books you look at and think, "I really should read that one again, how long ago was it that I last read it...?".

It's a disease, but a most pleasant one :-)

Aren O. Týr said...

I forgot to add that a picture of my extremely modest bookshelf that I've got crammed into my small room appears in a recent post in my blog:

I've already got rid of boxes and boxes of books in my reasonably short lifetime thus far, and still have far too many! I better earn a good living so I can have a house to fit them all in, particularly if I can't cure myself...

Despite owning an Iliad e-Book reader with eInk screen technology, which is marvellous, and allows me to carry around a gigantic library in the palm of my hand, I still can't help but keep coming back to old fashioned paper books...

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Clarity said...

Thanks for the birthday wishes! I can't tell of the gifts but okay.. as this is an old post I guess it's safe to be immodest :) Kidding! I can't, but listen if you ever make it back to ye olde smoke I shall treat thee to tea and treats at Patisserie Valeri and tell you.

I adore libraries too and old book shops. Give me a tattered hardback and a barely there chesterfield and I'm content.

I adore his description of that sensation:

French Fancy... said...

Hello again Clarity. You must have got some good booty to be reluctant to post about it. Don't worry though - I've also been the recipient of gorgeous extravagant pressies and think that if one can afford it (or one's partner) then it is their duty to throw the baubles about.

I'd love to meet up with you when I come to London - which will probably be in the bleak old midwinter now. I hate cities in the heat and bustle.

When Mr FF finally sorts out why i can't seem to access Youtube anymore I will view what you have linked to.

Looking forward to getting to know you better


Scott Fazzini said...

F.F. -I, too, am an admirer of libraries, and a lover of books. I see that you're currently reading "Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving. He is such a fantastic writer! I'm in love with "The World According to Garp"!

Trisha said...

I have just found you via a mutual friend. I too have read 'The Ghost Road' by Pat Barker. A thoughtful read. Have you put your eyes to 'Birdsong' by Sebastian Faulks? Both books made me weep as my dear Dad lost his father during WW1 and I could only imagine what he went through.

French Fancy... said...

Hi again Trish. Yes, I do have Birdsong but I think I prefer the Barker Trilogy. I've almost finished The Ghost Road now - I think I would have given the second book the Booker - and that just shows why I am not a famous judge.

Fran Hill said...

I'm the same. Seeing people happily lolling on sofas and reading the books in the bookshop (don't you DARE lick your finger to turn the page!) really annoys me. But why do the bookshops put those sofas there? I don't geddit.

Like your blog. Came over from your comment on bloggertropolis.

French Fancy... said...

Hello Fran - I think we could be kindred spirits you know. I have this feeling about us.