Library Checkout!

I’ve started using my local public library a lot more recently, thanks in large part to this rather magnificent Twitter thread from Secret Library Gorgon. It reminded me that I do, in fact, possess an Islington Libraries card, and that until two weeks ago, I had only used it once in the course of nine or ten months. So I went down to the library a fortnight ago, borrowed five books (most of which were mentioned in my last reading roundup post), and had a whale of a time.

They were all due back today (one of the most embarrassing things about my relative virginity as a public libraries user is that I was genuinely unsure whether that meant I could return them at any time today, or whether I had to return them by the time it became today, e.g. yesterday. For anyone else similarly struggling: it is the former.) Duly, I returned them and immediately borrowed seven more:

One of the very nicest things about a public library is its free-ness. This should be obvious, but it allows for all sorts of experimentation in one’s reading that would be harder to defend if spending of actual cash were required. My job does provide me with a lot of free books, but these come from publisher’s reps and, as proof copies, are in the nature of “previews” of the things they’re going to be releasing this season. If I happen to want to read something published longer ago than, say, six to eight months, the reps are unlikely to have proof copies (though sometimes miracles do occur—reprint editions, how I love thee), and I will have to spend money on it in order to possess it. My staff discount from Heywood Hill is extremely good—we can buy books at cost price, more or less, which in practice generally means at least 45% discount and sometimes as much as 55%—but it’s still, you know, money.

I am, as you can probably see from the above pile, trying to expand my knowledge of iconic crime and science fiction, and it is much easier to do that when I don’t have to spend money on a book whose quality I can’t predict, precisely because my knowledge base in that genre is currently limited. I’m also trying to fill some of my classic literature gaps; these are probably smaller than most people’s, by the nature of the degree that I did, but with the best will in the world, even after three years of reading the Anglophone canon, one is going to have missed some things. And I’m being guided, in a vague sort of way, by the Guardian’s Top 1000 Novels list (although the more I examine it, the more I realize that it is noticeably biased, though the nature of that bias has yet to clarify itself. It contains, for instance, five novels by Michael Dibdin and three by Ian Fleming in the “crime” subcategory, which is itself composed of 146 titles. Even his champions will probably balk at the notion that Ian Fleming, neither the world’s greatest stylist nor its greatest plotsmith, wrote three—three!—entirely indispensable books. I have read two of the listed, Goldfinger and Casino Royale. Only the latter has a claim to that kind of significance, and its claim is mainly historic. The former is not even particularly good.)

Tangents aside, this is what I’ve come away with this time:

  • The Drowned World, by JG Ballard [on the Guardian list]
  • Non-Stop, by Brian Aldiss [on the Guardian list]
  • Sorcerer To the Crown, by Zen Cho [on my personal to-read list for years]
  • The Neon Rain, by James Lee Burke [on the Guardian list]
  • Blood Shot, also published as Toxic Shock, by Sara Paretsky [on the Guardian list]
  • Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë [on the Guardian list]
  • How Do You Like Me Now?, by Holly Bourke [recommended by my trustworthy colleague Faye]

Anyone read any of these, or want to? What should I read first? I’ve never read any of these authors before, except for Brontë, obviously.

Rebecca at Bookish Beck runs a regular Library Checkout feature, from which I’ve snitched this post title; the most recent one is here.

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25 thoughts on “Library Checkout!

  1. Great selection! I read High Rise by Ballard quite a while ago and very much enjoyed it. The Drowned World is one I picked out to read by him next but I never got round to it, so thank you for the reminder!

  2. Libraries are great. Trouble is tend to borrow books and then get distracted and never read them! Interesting selection. I’ve read and enjoyed both Ballard and Aldiss although not those titles – but I highly recommend both authors!

    1. Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to keep my borrowing figures within reason – I still don’t know how many I can check out at once!

  3. I have How Do You Like Me Now? on hold at my library at the moment, and I brought my copy of Shirley back from America to read sometime soon. I’m always delighted to see people using their local libraries 🙂 FREE BOOKS!

    1. FREE BOOKS! Shirley strikes me as very similar (at least superficially) to North and South, which I loved, so I’m keen to read it and find out more.

  4. Have you read Paretsky’s collection of essays Writing in an Age of Silence? You will understand where she is coming from in her crime fiction much better if you do.

  5. Libraries are absolutely perfect for experimentation. I often pick up books by authors I’ve never heard of and then, if I find it’s not to my taste, I have none of the guilt feelings about wasting money….

  6. Yay, free books!!! I use my library similarly, to take a chance on books I’m not 100% certain about, while buying the ones that I’m more confident I’ll like. It definitely helps me keep my reading very broad. I’m excited for your thoughts on Shirley, I know that one UK booktuber loves it, Lucy at… something or other. But she’s a Bronte aficionado and that’s her favorite. I’ve only read Jane Eyre by Charlotte because I’m basic.

  7. Shirley is a bit all over the place, but yes, very North and South-ish and lots of female friendship (fairly toxic). I read a library copy too and would really like a full Bronte collection one of these days…

  8. I haven’t read any of those; science fiction and crime are two areas where I really haven’t read much. I’ve just gotten back into using the library as well. I started going regularly with my kids and then was like, “Hey, I could get books for myself too!” And yay for free books!

  9. You might enjoy reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean which not only explores the history and inner workings of the library, but presents a riveting story of the 1986 catastrophic fire in the LA Library. I just reviewed it. So glad you are supporting your local library. Enjoy all it has to offer. Happy Reading!

  10. Hi Elle, You should read Shirley! I was surprised to see it on your list, but I who love all things Bronte thought it was a great book which has a very small fan club. Good for you for getting back to the library. I work in one and think it’s the greatest place to be. Happy reading!

    1. I’m so keen to read Shirley! Especially because I read Gaskell’s North and South this spring and think there are interesting comparisons to be made.

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