The prompt this week was to write in the style of a favourite author. Just have a wee go at changing your style, they said. I'm afraid it resulted in a bit of carnage down the libary.
My favourite author? Now who could that be? That’s like asking me what molecule of air I enjoyed the most from my last lung full of breath. I’ve been soaking up books for so long I see them as crucial to my existence. I feel like I was born in a library. Ever since then I’ve been on countless journey’s to anywhere, everywhere and nowhere but having a favourite author would be like closing all the paths to new places. It would stop me from growing. It would restrict me to one place and limit my adventures. That would kill me.
As I said, it all started in the library. You know, picture books. Mom or dad would take my brother and I there after swimming. We’d have eaten our bag of proper, chippie chips, heavy on the salt and vinegar with maybe a bit of ketchup before we’d get let loose in the little section where the kiddie’s books were found. Pictures could paint a thousand words, but it wasn’t till I was maybe halfway through primary school and I was big enough to get to the library by myself that I made the big jump to the books with no pictures. The books with letters that could use a thousand words to get my brain painting images of far off places, introduce me to new friends and take me on adventures.
Letters made up the words, but they also signposted the authors, that took me on my adventures. The books were on shelves all stacked in alphabetical order and filed by the authors second name. To be fair in those days I struggled to get past B but that’s because Enid Blyton lived there and for a while I only wanted to hang out with Kiki the parrot and tackle smugglers on the ‘Island of Adventure’ or go on a picnic with Timmy the dog and the rest of famous five but very quickly I realised how restrictive having a favourite author could be. Don’t get me wrong I still went back to visit Enid occasionally but there are just so many picnics you can go on before you overdose on homemade lemonade, ginger beer and scrumptious cakes.
No, it was off to the big library and I left Enid Blyton behind along with Lavinia Derwent, Willard Price, W.E Johns and all the other great authors who had showed me the way. The big library was a whole new world and I lapped it up. Silence was certainly golden, and I didn’t want any noise or distraction when I walked through the big Greek revival sandstone pillars into Paisley Central Library with its austere, tiled, high ceilinged rooms loaded with wooden shelves and countless books. There was a sense of great deeds having been done there and you had to respect that. It just seemed right to keep quiet, breathe in that old musty vanilla book smell and lose yourself in your own quiet world. I enjoyed the ritual of picking new reads and I did not undertake it lightly. I read anything but I didn’t read everything. So, after searching through the usual spots; fiction, adventure, thrillers or my authors of the time, I would glance at the book titles and spines in the different sections. I would stop and scrutinise the contents of the shelves looking for a title or a cover that would intrigue me. The attraction could be anything. A word in the title, the font of the lettering, the colours, an emblem or a picture but something would grab me, and I would be drawn to it like a magnet to metal. The cover was important, but the blurb was crucial to whether I started flicking through the pages or just popped it back on the shelf. I was allowed six books, sometimes eight if I could purloin extra tickets from my brother, but I never left without my full quota. The selections varied as I evolved. Sure, I always threw in some action and adventure stuff. That’s my genre but I wasn’t closed to the other stuff. I was big on non-fiction too. During my intellectual period I even made it a rule that I was only allowed to read a fictional book if I read a non-fiction one first. It wasn’t a problem though, I’ve always been curious about history, science and society so reading about it not only transported me back through Earth’s history but took me right across the voids of time, space and all over the universe. In a typical visit I could check out the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Erich Von Daniken and Stephen Hawking along with Colleen McCullough, Jeffrey Archer and Jack Higgins. The lady at the counter would be waiting. It was always a lady and whoever the lady was always wore glasses, plain clothes and practical shoes. I wondered why they were all thin and looked like ex-teachers. I just assumed Renfrewshire Council had a policy of recruiting their librarians from a pool of stern, critical, retired teachers. She would take my pile of books, examine them, and flick open the cover of each one in turn. She would look me over and assess my choice. It seemed like she always judged me by my covers with a wry smile for intellectual stuff or a scowl for my favoured stories. With Solzhenitsyn she would assume I was into Russian history? I could be communist. That would fit in with Von Daniken and his God was a spaceman theory. She would pin me as an atheist. Hawking would keep her on that train of thought, but McCullough would confuse her. She confused me. A book about some wayward priest chasing female love in Australia wasn’t meant to be my thing and I almost gave it a miss, but it was a good story. I never dropped it into casual conversation, but the Thorn Birds was as enjoyable as Kane and Able or the Eagle has landed. On that occasion three smiles, one frown and two scowls. Each time my authors and topics would vary but the lady would always stand there in her drab outfit and flat shoes looking at me over her spectacles and nodding approvingly or scowling before taking my six blue library cards that proved I was an adult. The kids used buff coloured ones. She would then slip the ticket from the books, date the tickets, slot them in to the folds on my library cards and then file the cards with the tickets in a drawer. Then she inked the books with her date stamp, and they were mine irrespective of what she thought of them. I now had two weeks to read them, but I would generally only need one before I repeated the ritual and locked horns with the learned, leering librarian. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but I didn’t flinch, and she never stopped me reading.
Like my reading, life has evolved. Anonymous, unintelligible barcodes control the distribution of books and have replaced the certainty of date stamps, but the ritual still goes on albeit without the library ladies sitting in Judgement. For me, modern book selection is slightly different. I still think Libraries are a great resource, but I don’t use them very much. I get most of my books from Amazon and charity shops. I still read everything and anything. When I chose books the covers and blurbs are still important, and I must confess action and adventure is still my favourite genre, but I don’t have to care what the library lady thinks. In the modern world I can overdose on action and adventure without seeking her approval and I do. I can have four of them on the go at once. Usually, it’s Simon Scarrow or Bernard Cornwell in the Bathroom. Andy McNab, Stuart McBride or Dan Brown on the bedside Cabinet. Denzil Merrick or Stephen Leather on my phone or Kindle and I recently discovered Lee Child who is now on my audible downloads for the car or dog walking. The authors change but the stories are the important thing. It doesn’t matter if its paperback, hard back, electronic or Audio. I just love them all. I couldn’t breathe without them. I would die.
So just like they say at the end of a good audio download “I hope you have enjoyed this narration” which I have delivered in the style of my latest discovery, Lee Child, who is better known as the author of the Jack Reacher stories. I reckon Jack Reacher is a dangerous man who could kill you without a flicker of emotion and Lee Child could wreak carnage on any mundane occurrence quickly turning it into life-threatening conspiracy. I’m pretty sure if Jack Reacher had met my old librarian adversaries, he would probably have shot them twice through the face, after smashing their wind pipes on their first scowl and I know Lee Child would justify why they had to go. Ha! Ha! that would kill me.