Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The magic of books

'Books are a uniquely portable magic' - Stephen King

When we got back to England one of the early jobs we did was to join the local library. The deckhands were really excited and I was like a child in a sweet shop surrounded by so many wonderful books, so much delicious choice. We had been able to spend a lot of time reading whilst we were away, a luxury that we treasured. As we moved along the south coast of Britain we joined the Topsham then Gosport libraries and visited them frequently. Once we had left England our reading material became much more limited.

We had a lot of books with us which we enjoyed reading and re-reading and Kindles which were new to us just before we left the country; from being unsure about them at first we have all come to really love them. We even found picture books for the youngest whilst he had his reading L plates on. Other books had to be either brought for the Kindle in areas where we had internet or were treats delivered by relatives when they came to visit. This meant that we selected and ordered them very carefully – ones which had been recommended to us or we had heard a lot about or from authors whose work we already enjoyed.
A marina book swap shelf - groaning with goodies

Occasionally we would receive a ‘wild card’ book – one passed on from a sister-in-law maybe and in some harbours they do a book swap. This is usually a table or shelf somewhere, often in a laundrette, where you can leave books you have read and pick up different books which have been finished with by another cruiser. There is usually a very eclectic mix. Mildewed copies of ‘A world of my own’ by Robin Knox-Johnston or pilot books held together with wishful-thinking and sticky tape jostle with well thumbed Herman Wouk novels and rag eared Mills and Boons’. There is also a strong international feel with books in a variety of languages all left by boats passing through.

Coming from that experience where new books were a treat and the choice of a book was a fairly big decision to having library access again was wonderful. What really surprised me though was when I noticed how I was choosing books. In writing, one of the ‘rules’ is that the first sentence is really important. So much energy, thought and rewriting goes into it making sure that it is perfect. You can find lists of how and how not to start stories and writers are repeatedly told that an agent can reject a book on its first line alone.
When I was in the library I realised that I was just skimming along the shelves looking for a cover or rather a spine to catch my eye. I would then read the title before deciding whether or not to even pull it off the shelf. Once I had selected one I would turn to the back cover to look at the blurb before deciding whether or not to take it out on loan. Sometimes I might flick through a couple of pages and read a couple of random bits but I never turn to the front page. So much then for that all important first sentence!

Maybe it’s just me? Do other people choose their reading material based on the first sentence or just random luck or some other tried and tested formula of their own? Some people like to stay with a certain genre. Sometimes it is the unexpected tome which is the most enjoyable, the one picked up just on the off chance or a pointer from someone else.

Ready to take on the Mythical Maze
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The Summer Reading Challenge for children has now started in libraries all over Britain and children will be choosing books to enjoy over the school holidays. Some will stick with favourite authors whilst others may be following recommendations from each other and adults around them. There will be lots of children finding new and old books, immersing themselves completely in adventures and fantasies and escaping to different worlds through the summer months. I wonder how they will choose the books that they read. Let’s hope that however the decision to take a certain book home is made that amongst those books they find some new favourite authors, writing to inspire them and new books to enjoy and treasure.

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