My love affair with books – the early years

Following on from yesterday’s ebook vs paperback debate, I wanted to talk about reading in general. I’ve always been a keen reader. I was reading before I started school and quickly exhausted the set reading books available, to the point where the teacher in my last year at junior school said to just bring in a book from home.

Cover of "The Stainless Steel Rat"

I’d already been plundering my dad’s book collection – it was fairly small, consisting of books on the shelf by his bed and some in his office at work, but I soon picked up a taste for pulp sci-fi. Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat is still a favourite of mine, and I went through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series in no time. Followed up with Asimov’s I, Robot, and his Lucky Starr -Space Ranger series, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman books, the list goes on. I think my teacher was a bit alarmed when I turned up with a well-thumbed copy of one of the early Mars books, with their covers strewn with giant green aliens and bikini-clad heroines.

Back in those days, books also seemed to be a lot thinner!

I’d joined the local library too, and whizzed through books at a rate of knots. This was back in the days before computerised library issue systems, and each book had a little card ticket[1] which went into a pocket in one of your library cards. I got told off by the librarian at the tiny local branch library (maybe 50 metres from our front door, bliss!) for reading too quickly, as I’d returned a book that I’d borrowed a couple of hours earlier and she hadn’t got round to filing the tickets yet! Luckily she took pity on me and gave me a couple of extra library tickets.

My own bookshelves followed and were soon groaning under the weight. Then came the dream weekend job – working in a public library to make a bit of extra money, and getting paid to look after and talk to people about books. Great fun, and with a whole world of books at my disposal. Plus I got to persuade the librarians there to buy copies of a book I wanted to read, and got to read them before anyone else. I spent a few happy years working evenings and weekends in a variety of libraries across the city, from the tiny little local libraries to the bigger city branches. Had a weird moment one day working in Byker library when I realised that it was *exactly* the same design of building as my base at Fenham library, only with half the number of books.

I’ve got a load of library-related tales to tell, but that’s for another day. The question I have for you today, dear reader, is about your early reading – did you start young, late, what sort of books did you like?

[1] The Browne Issue System, for the curious amongst you

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

4 thoughts on “My love affair with books – the early years”

  1. I have very strong memories of visiting the public library from a very early age. I used to take a bag to carry all the books; later I took a bright yellow plastic box. This box could hold about 30 books, which was the library’s lending limit at the time. I would almost indiscriminately pull books off shelves and take them home to devour for two or three weeks, only neglecting to take them if they had already been read — or were about sports.

    After entering high school, I started using the public library less and as a result read less for pleasure as well. This was partly due to a heavier workload, but also in part to a redevelopment of the library’s “Teen Space”. They wanted to get more teenagers using the library, so the quiet section bordering the (then intimidating) adult section on the ground floor was shifted up two levels, and vending machines and televisions were installed among the books. The library’s clientele drastically changed, to much outrage from regular users. It was perceived as one of those “changes for the worse” that were forced upon us, much like the various Facebook interface updates that pop up every couple of months. But much like those various Facebook interface updates that pop up every couple of months, most people got over it sooner or later. I consider myself a bit old for that section of the library now and at any rate tend to use the university library for most books I need.

    The library of course had good reasons for changing their modus operandi. Curious to know if you’ve encountered similar changes at libraries you’ve worked at. Have you been involved with any “modernisation” of libraries? On the topic of ebooks from the other day, did you hear about the paperless library planned for Texas?

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