Posts Tagged ‘Library’

In the secret library of my mind, I still own every book I’ve ever bought. Though the hands giveth away, the heart remembers. Even when there are no physical gaps on my shelves to indicate what’s gone, the absence still provokes a certain lurch, like a missing step. I mourn the loss of books which, at the time, I felt certain I’d never actually read, or would never read again; I lament the folly which caused me to get rid of “inessential” works – that is, anything I wasn’t actively planning to reread at the time. I even regret the loss of particular children’s reference books, not for any sentimental reason, but because they’re actually very good starting places for worldbuilding research – or would be, if I hadn’t given them all away.

It’s not as if I make a habit of shedding books. I cling to paperbacks like a baby possum clutching its mother’s stomach. It’s just that, when I do get rid of things, I tend to do it en masse, while under the undue influence of my-room-is-clean-let’s-do-this-thing euphoria. As a kid, I’d take boxes of my old books to the local second hand store, then walk away clutching a whole twenty dollars – which, to a twelve year old, is basically millions. As a teenager, I turfed out a few books before heading to university, then more when my parents moved house. (And then again, to my infinite regret, when my college boyfriend convinced me that the much-loved and complete sets of Garfield, Snoopy and Footrot Flats I’d spent nearly twenty years acquiring were too childish for an adult to keep lugging round.) Every time, I thought I was doing the right thing, and every time, I experienced the same crushing disappointment when, having forgotten my former ruthlessness, I instinctively reached for a book that wasn’t there. Never again, I vowed.

And then we moved to England.

It was the turfout to end all turfouts. To give you some idea of exactly how many books I used to have, before we left, I gave away five boxes of children’s fiction and reference, five of adult works, put another nine boxes aside for safekeeping in Australia, and still had enough books left to fill the twelve boxes that came with us to the UK. I even gave away almost my entire collection of Anne McCaffrey – a decision so foolishly heartbreaking that, for three years afterwards, I managed to convince myself that it had never happened. I only realised the truth this month, when we came back to visit relatives (and to finally reclaim our things) and realised how much I’d thought I’d kept aside was, in fact, missing.

And now, today, it’s my birthday. All month long, I’ve been buying books with birthday and holiday money, stocking up on titles that are rare outside Australia, rummaging through secondhand stores and plotting to once again reconfigure my office when we get home, the better to squeeze in just one more shelf. I’ve even rebought some secondhand McCaffreys, to replace the ones I abandoned. But the real gift I’ve given myself is this: the permission to never, ever get rid of any books again. As a kid, I was able to build a library because I spent my entire childhood in the same, big house with the same, bookish parents. I had stability, space and encouragement, and I used those things to fill my room with dinosaur magazines, books on sharks and castles and the human body and, of course, fantasy novels. I took my library for granted, and so, when the need or opportunity arose, I never thought twice about frittering bits of it away.

But since I’ve become an adult – living in smaller places, packing and repacking my possessions with each new move, living for weeks or months or years with furniture chosen by landlords and not nearly enough storage space – I’ve come to appreciate the immense psychological value of a library. I feel comforted and whole in the presence of books, and always have done, and always will do. Having grown up in a house that boasted reading material in every room, I now find bookless rooms to be cold, unfinished, uncomfortable. Browsing in bookshops calms me down the way tea or coffee calms other people, regardless of whether I end up buying anything. Even when their weight becomes impractical – and even though I now have a Kindle – I always travel with multiple books to hand, partly because I can’t bear the thought of running out of things to read, but mostly because there’s no surer way to make myself feel at home in a hotel room than to put a stack of novels on the nighstand.

And now, finally, I have the same library-spawning privileges I did as a child: a place that’s mine, a supply of shelves, and the sure and certain knowledge that I won’t be moving again for a good, long while. The whole time we’ve been in Australia, I’ve been rounding up the books I left in storage like papery sheep, ready to ship them home with me.. I’m building my new library, and this time, it’s for keeps. In the nineteen days we’ve been here – and without counting Kindle purchases – I’ve bought twenty-two books: an average of more than one day.

Hello. My name is Foz, and I’m a bookaholic.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If someone too poor or otherwise unable to buy a specific product is given that product for free, has the product’s creator lost a sale?

In most instances, I’d argue, the answer is no. You can’t lose money that doesn’t exist in the first place, or which your potential customer is unable to spend on whatever it is you’re selling. What you’ve lost, if anything, is a specific product, and therefore the opportunity to sell it to someone who can pay. If Lamborghini were to give me a free car, for instance – or if some altruistic third party were to do so instead – then either they’ve lost the money they could’ve earned by selling that specific vehicle elsewhere, or they’ve lost the opportunity to sell to me directly. In the latter instance, though, they haven’t lost a sale, because someone actually did buy the car; and in the former instance, while they might have lost a sale, they haven’t lost my sale, because the chances of my being able to afford a Lambo in this lifetime, let alone wanting to buy one if I could, are slim to none. The only way for Lamborghini to lose my sale, therefore, is if I were both willing and able to buy a car from them, but elected not to – and even then, I’d still be within my rights as a consumer to look elsewhere.

I mention all this because Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories series, has not only said that libraries are defunct, but accused them of stealing the income of authors – “cutting their throats and slashing their purses”, as he rather dramatically has it. “Books aren’t public property,” he says, “and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.”

Ignoring his rather snide and sexist slighting of Blyton, as though authors are somehow fundamentally less deserving of recompense if they happen to be middle-class women who do it for fun (the horror!), the linchpin of Deary’s argument seems to hinge on his belief that, because his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times from public libraries last year – earning him the maximum return of £6,600 under the PLR scheme – he’s effectively lost out on the £180,000 he feels he ought to have had if he’d instead sold 500,000 extra copies. Never mind the fact that all those library copies were themselves bought and paid for in the first instance, such that, by virtue of being in a library, they’ve collectively netted him more money than if they’d been bought by members of the public: the maths he’s used to reach his £180,000 figure is predicated on the assumption that every single person who’s borrowed his books was otherwise both willing and able to pay for them – an assumption which is categorically false.

He then tries to bolster his outrage by saying:

“What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches… This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it.”

Well, actually, no: they don’t. Ignoring the fact that not every country has a TV licencing scheme, even in the UK, it’s entirely legal to watch regular programming online, for free, using sites like BBC iPlayer and 4oD, so long as you only watch catch-up and not live streaming. More pertinently, perhaps, Deary has clearly never heard of radio, video rental, museums, art galleries, or, indeed, the internet – because if he had done, then there’d be no excuse for making the claim that libraries are some lone, perverse bastion of free panem et circuses in a world where absolutely everything is paid for otherwise.

And then, of course, there’s the moral/historical angle: “Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers,” Deary moans. “This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.”

The bolding above is my own, and it’s there for a reason. Take a good, long look at that sentence – specifically, at the crucial use and placement of the word wanted, whose past tense indicates that allowing the impoverished access to literature is something we don’t want to do any longer; or rather, that Deary believes we shouldn’t. There’s so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to begin. With the fact that, under Deary’s ideal system, the poor are only entitled to literature while they’re of school age, perhaps? With the fact that most of the literary benefit one experiences while a student comes, not from English class, but the school library? Or how about the novel idea that treating support of literacy in poverty as a quirky Victorian prerogative rather than an ongoing social necessity is not only morally repugnant, but incredibly shortsighted when one depends for one’s living on the existence of a literate, interested populace?

But let’s return to Deary’s primary argument – that his 500,000-odd library rentals represent some 500,000 lost sales – and why it’s so inaccurate: first, because it assumes that he gained no sales by virtue of readers encountering his books in the library and later deciding to buy them; second, because it assumes that everyone who borrowed his books was similarly able or inclined to buy them, and only went the library route out of sheer cheapness; third, because it likewise assumes that the figure of 500,000 borrows corresponds to 500,000 discreet individuals; fourth, because it ignores the fundamentally obvious point that many, if not most people will try all sorts of things for free for which they’d never readily pay money, or for which they wouldn’t pay money without a free sample first; and fifth – and specific to Deary’s case – because his books are aimed at a middle grade audience, meaning that his readers and the persons who actually hand over money are overwhelmingly two different sets of people, with the latter tending (one suspects) to be the parents and relatives of the former.

Those last two points in particular are worth expanding on, because they’re linked in quite a significant way: that is, that parents are about infinity times more likely to buy specific books for their children when in possession of cold, hard proof that their gift will actually be read, rather than mouldering quietly on a bedroom shelf. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least ten books or series that my parents bought me in my pre-teen years as a direct result of my having borrowed and re-borrowed the library copies: they knew they were making a successful purchase, and I in turn was getting something I wanted. Without libraries, I’d never have bought the entirety of Geoffrey McSkimming’s Cairo Jim and Jocelyn Osgood stories, or convinced my mother to shell out the princely sum of nearly thirty Australian dollars for my own hardbacked copy of the Pan Macmillan Book of Greek Gods and Heroes – a book, I might add, which I still possess today. As wrongheaded as Deary’s comments are, they’d at least be marginally more comprehensible if he wrote for adults, who have direct control over their discretionary spending – but children?

All my life, I’ve been a patron of libraries. Even now that I’m an adult with my own disposable income, I still use them. Why? Because, not unreasonably, I’m reluctant to outlay money on unknown authors if I can sample their works beforehand for free. My book-buying budget is limited, and I want to make the most of it: now that I have a Kindle, I’ll often download sample chapters, and when I have time to browse through bookshops at leisure, I’ll read the first few pages to help me make a decision, but ultimately, neither method guarantees that a book will be worth my time and money. And so, I’ll try the library: that way,  I lose nothing on books I don’t like, but can still discover new authors – and once I’ve discovered an author I like, their books go on my ‘automatic purchase’ list. Tamora Pierce and Sara Douglass are both authors I discovered through libraries in my early teens; thus  hooked, I proceeded to buy their entire respective works, even the titles I’d already read, because the idea of not owning them was insupportable. Libraries are an investment in the creation of new readers, and if Deary thinks for a second that nobody has ever bought his books as a direct result of having encountered them first in libraries, then I’d venture to suggest that he’s in the wrong profession.

Libraries don’t inhibit a writer’s profits: they add to them – not just through the PLR scheme, but through the creation of new readers and the maintenance of a literate, book-hungry populace. And while, as I’ve said, Deary is wholly wrong in his assertion that libraries are unique in providing entertainment or creative content for free, they are unique (or at least, almost unique, the internet having joined their ranks) in promoting an actual, necessary life-skill – literacy – among those parts of the populace who might otherwise suffer for its inaccessibility. The idea that such beneficence should begin and end with the classroom (and where does Deary think many poorer students are getting not only their assigned reading and reference books, but free internet and computer access, if not the library?) is a social Scroogism that ill becomes a professional author even moreso than it would any other person, and particularly one who writes about history.

So here, then, is my advice to Mr Deary: conduct a campaign to have your books removed from libraries everywhere. Petition schools and librarians, call the distributors, go by in person and tear up their copies if you have to, but rid the freeloading reading world of access to your work; and when, having done so, your annual income fails to increase to the tune of £180,000 pounds? Then, Mr Deary, I will laugh at your hubris – and buy someone else’s books.

Yesterday kicked off with a trip to the hairdresser’s. My last cut was at least six months ago, with the result that my hair was starting to look like the business end of a witch’s broom. So there was shaping and trimming and layering, and also the addition of a purple streak, which I’ve been wanting for a while, but always forget to ask about, because while I enjoy having someone else massage and shampoo my head, being in any sort of fashionable establishment tends to fluster me into an unnatrual state of awkward, mumbling pseudo-silence. I’ve never had a streak before; I thought it would take maybe ten minutes of salon time, half an hour tops. Instead, it was an extra hour and change. Totally worth it – the purple looks awesome – but seeing as I hadn’t mentioned this part of the plan to anyone else, there was some degree of speculation as to why I was taking to long just to get my hair cut, with the main theories being that I’d either died in the chair, or was getting a perm. (Which of these seems the worse fate, I’ll leave up to you.)

The launch started at 2, but we showed up at Carlton Library an hour early, “we” being myself, Toby and his parents, who (massive thanks!) helped out with the catering. Our alotted section of the library housed the YA and picture book sections. We plonked our stuff down on one of the tables to wait, then said a temporary goodbye as Toby’s parents went to get a pre-launch drink down the road. Toby found a children’s book on 70s rock music to read. I sat and tried to be calm.

After about five minutes of this, a small boy came running in, his father and younger sister following behind. The boy was called Harry, we soon overheard. He was bright, inquisitive and very, very confident – enough so that he made talking to Toby and I his first order of buisness. We had three main conversations. They went like this:

Conversation the First

Harry: Is this the old library?

Me: I don’t know. I’ve never been here before today.

Harry: Yes, you have.

Me: Have I? When?

Harry: Two days ago.

Me: Oh, OK. Well, maybe I was here, but I just don’t remember it.

Harry: Yes, you do. Do you mind if I run around in here?

Me: You probably shouldn’t. I don’t think the librarians would like it.

Harry: Alright. [pauses, walks away, thinks, comes back] Do you know where the old library is?

Me: I don’t know.

Harry: Yes, you do.

Me: Well, maybe it’s here, but we just can’t see it.

Harry: Yes. I think the real library must be hiding in the books.

Me: Actually, that’s probably very true.

Harry: Or it could be behind that broom closet door. Or under your chair. You’ll have to jump up, though, so I can look.

(I obliged, of course, and he inspected. But if he found anything important, he kept it to himself.)

Conversation the Second

Harry: I’ve just turned four, you know.

Me: Really? That’s great. It’s my birthday tomorrow, too.

Harry: How old will you be?

Me: Twenty-four.

Harry: No, you’re not.

Me: No? How old do you think I’ll be?

Harry: I think you’re turning twenty-eight hundred thousand million years old. And then you’ll die.

Me: I look good for my age, then.

Harry: [eyeing me critically] You’re really old.

Conversation the Third

Harry: I really like Star Wars legos.

Toby: Oh? I like Star Wars legos too. They’re pretty cool. Do you have droids?

Harry: I think so. I have lots of different ones.

Toby: Do you have the Millenium Falcon?

Harry: I’m not sure. I don’t know what that is.

Toby: It’s a ship. Does yours fly?

Harry: No, it doesn’t fly. You have to pretend that it does.

All of which was, I thought, a rather wonderful start to the day.

So: we set things up, both sets of parents arrived – as did the amazing Ford Street team – and I started to feel this strange sort of disconnect between the words coming out of my mouth and the rest of my body, which intensified as more and more people appeared. It was great to see everyone, though when Paul finally called a start to the proceedings, I’ll admit to having been just a weensy bit terrified. In a good way.

The fantastic Kirstyn McDermott gave me a warm and lovely welcome. I bumbled into the spotlight, grinned a lot and hopefully wasn’t too incoherent as I tried to explain about my brain being on a different planet, and what Harry had said about the real library being in the books, and how great it was to be there with Solace & Grief and my friends and my family, in a sort of garbled rush that hopefully made more sense to the audience that it did to me as I was saying it. And then it was time for the prologue; I calmed down a bit, and although I spoke too fast at times, as soon as I started to read aloud, I felt confident. My voice changed in my own ears. Everyone writes in a cadence unique to them, and as I narrated, every pause and emphasis felt natural, right. And then it was done, and nobody seemed to mind that I took a bit more than five minutes, and we drank champagne, and I signed books like a Real Author, and posed for photos, and tried not to be ambushed by the Leopard of Falling Over At Inappropriate Moments. Which I wasn’t. Which was good.

The pub followed; we went to the Kent, which was conveniently situated over the road, and had merry drinks with friends – although I am ashamed to say that, in my baffled, joy-oblivious state, I failed to notice that four SuperNovarians were sitting at a different table to everyone else, and so ended up not speaking to them until they came over to say they were heading off, about two hours later. Which I felt guilty about, and which makes me a Bad Foz, but hopefully in an understandable way. (Sorry, guys!)

Eventually, there were just four of us left: Toby and I, plus two philosopher friends, with whom we grabbed an Italian meal. Afterwards, we all trooped back to their place and watched The Lady Vanishes, which was just as much fun as ever, while eating fruit salad and ice cream; we weren’t able to pick up any more wine on the way over, but Borders was still open, and as I’d been given a birthday voucher by some other friends at the pub, I made used it to grab a copy of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. And then we came home, and that was the Day of the Melbourne Launch. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave encouragement, support and helped it to be so great. Which is all of you.

Today – Sunday – was my 24th birthday. My parents, who are visiting from Sydney, shouted us all to a civilised midmorning brunch at a local cafe/restaraunt – I had eggs benedict with salmon on the side, and it was delicious. While other people did other things, mum and I wandered around the city – where I finally found a pair of shorts to call my own, and which, amusingly enough, cost lest than the four pairs of socks my mother bought at David Jones – and then met up with Toby to watch Shutter Island at the Melbourne Central cinemas. It wasn’t a great film: the acting was solid on behalf of DiCaprio and Williams, there were some amazing shots, and the music was beautifully atmospheric, but over all, it left the three of us feeling a bit hollow. Not to be all spoilery, but when you start a Hollywood film with the premise of an outsider investigating the goings-on at an asylum, the ending is almost guaranteed to go one of two ways, and while the whole set-up served to reinforce this fact, I think we’d been all hoping that a Scorsese film would employ some shaper, more deviously satisfying climax than the “oh, of course” fizzle on offer. Still, it wasn’t a complete waste of time – my mother rediscovered the Choc Top.

Finally, the day finished up with drinks and nibbles left over from the launch at my sister-in-law’s place – just the family, which was a nice wrap to the weekend. 2010 is well underway, and though there’s much more still to come, I’ll face it with the successful launch of Solace & Grief and my belt, and the confidence which comes from being another year older.