Literary Challenges

Louise – Senior Librarian Manager – Local & Family History

Lou WutheringWhen I found the BBC list of 100 books you should read before you die I must admit to feeling quite smug.  Here I am a graduate with an English degree, 17 years’ experience of working in libraries and reading as a favourite pass time, surely I can score highly on this list.  However it was not to be, I was brought back down to earth with a score barely in the twenties, and while my English course had covered some of the lists authors, they were not the right books to allow me to tick them off the list.  And so began my literary challenge, my aim to complete at least two thirds of the list, why not the full thing? Because I know there are some on it I have no interest in reading and I fully believe that life is too short to read a book that doesn’t grip you.  I started with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and found to my surprise it was not at all the story I thought it would be, thanks to overly romanticised TV adaptations and one Kate Bush song I really thought this was an epic romantic tale, instead I found a book full a characters I really couldn’t like, spoiled, abused, abusive and cruel these were lives to be endured not rooted for, but it did grip me, and so I look forward to continuing on and finding more from this list of classic and contemporary books to keep me invested.

lou AnimalSo far I’ve discovered that ‘Animal Farm’ is as relevant to today’s political landscape as the time it was written, that the minor characters of Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ are as fascinating as the main ones (I mean you Mr Wemmick), and that Roald Dahl is as enjoyable now as he was when I was young.  So far this challenge has allowed me to focus my reading, and I’ve read more in the last 6 months than in the year leading up to it adding another 12 to my running total. I’ve begun to read outside my comfort zone, enjoying books I never thought I’d been interested in.  The challenge has also reinvigorated my reading and I’m spending less time in front of the TV and internet and more time curled up with a book, it also sparked conversations with colleagues who I found out have a number of literary challenges of their own.

Antony – Deputy Manager – Local & Family History

My reading challenge – started ten-years ago, and still ongoing – is to read one book for each entry in the Dewey sequence (e.g. 172, 389, 505, etc). That’s a lot of books – and I’ve only managed around forty in that time. That’s OK, though, because the challenge was really only designed as a way to focus my reading when I had nothing specific in mind to pick-up next: confronted with the myriad of possible options presented in any public library, all equally valid and thus impossible to choose between, I needed a system that would help me work my way through that maze – and so the Dewey Sequence challenge was born. A secondary purpose: the challenge would oblige me to read books that I wouldn’t normally choose (so no ticking off as complete just because I knew I’d previously read a book for that sequence number).

What have been the most and least interesting books? Well, I don’t really want to single anything out as being dull, because I firmly believe that no amount of learning about the world is ever wasted (another motivation for the challenge) – but I do have to admit that titles such as Teach Yourself: Windows Vista (005) and  Skywriting: The Best of Air Jamaica’s In-Flight Magazine (052) were, let’s say, a bit niche (albeit that reading the latter did mean I’ll never forget the name of Jamaica’s first Premier, Norman Manley).

Lou NaturalAs for the best reads – Roger Clarke’s A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting For Proof (133) stands out in a relatively crowded field, just above books such as Phillip Blom’s Encyclopédie : the Triumph of Reason in an Unreasonable Age (034), Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Vietnam (070), and Melissa Katsoulis’ Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes (098). Most recently I’ve read Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die (300), which in some ways perfectly sums up the challenge: I’m not sure I completely agree with every argument made in the book – but I’ve at least opened myself up to the kinds of perspectives that I wouldn’t usually be confronted with; a core purpose, surely, for any public library service.

Helen – Librarian – Local & Family History

I set myself a literary challenge many years ago and I am still slowly working my way through it. In my youth I was a big fan of the band The Divine Comedy. If you’re not familiar with the name then you may remember the theme tune to Father Ted as well as the (fictional) Eurovision entry ‘My Lovely Horse’ – both written and performed by the band. In 1994 the Divine Comedy released their third album Promenade and track 3 features an unusual song entitled The Booklovers. The song itself is little more than a list of authors followed by a greeting or reference to a piece of their work. For example, we hear singer and songwriter, Neil Hannon, recite ‘Graham Greene’ followed by the words ‘Call me ‘pinky’, lovely’ (a reference to Greene’s Brighton Rock)’.  The song clocks in at nearly 6 minutes long and over 70 authors are mentioned in total.

Lou MobyLong ago I decided that I would read something by each of these authors. Luckily the list is of fairly well known writers so getting hold of works by each has not been a problem so far, especially working in a library… I’ve managed to read 33 of  the authors so far, possibly more, but if I cannot recall the storyline of a particular work then I’ve discounted it and will have to read it again sometime for it to properly ‘count’. Through this song I’ve discovered many of the classics of literature including Melville’s Moby Dick, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and one of my all-time favourites Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Ross – Librarian Manager – Local & Family History

I’ve set myself a reading challenge based on the traditional Japanese parlour game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, usually translated as ‘A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales’. The game became popular in the 17th Century and often an entire village would play. After sunset, villagers would gather in a darkened house and light a hundred candles. Each would then relate a strange or supernatural tale, finishing by blowing out one of the flames. The game would continue long into the night, and it would be up to those present whether or not they dared extinguish the last remaining candle. (As well as being a frightening prospect in itself, doing so was also believed to summon a demon!) In my version of the game, I plan to read a hundred ghost stories, blogging about each as I go. I’ll try anything from Victorian classics to modern creepypasta, but I definitely intend to include some works by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who’s written some brilliantly spooky-sounding short stories but is better-known for Rashomon. I probably won’t get going until December (that being perfect ghost story season) but, if you want to follow my progress, you can do so at: 100flickeringflames.blogspot.co.uk

Sally – Deputy Manager – Local & Family History

Lou HarryTo coincide with our latest exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic I set my self the challenge to read the Harry Potter book series. To everyone’s dismay I have never given the books a proper chance, and even more embarrassingly I was the perfect age to read them when they came out, being ten years old when The Philosopher’s Stone was released – somehow they managed to pass me by and I never got past the second book…

Whilst still not quite finished, I’m ploughing through with a new found, and growing appreciation for the series.  I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition in London whilst working on our own here in Leeds Libraries along with watching live panel discussions on the books and their effect on the world – working with and understanding our special collections which are on display in our exhibition has enabled me to put clear links between legendary literature and the hard work and real magic Jk Rowling put into the series. I’m excited to finish and become a fully-fledged fan!

So those are our literary challenges, I think a common theme appears to be that these challenges will take time, in some case decades to complete and while reading off list is fine in some ways it’s nice to have something to come back to.  Do you have a literary challenge of your own?  If so please let us know in the comments box below.

Librarian’s Choice: Crime Favourites

This blog comes from Lynn, a Senior Community Librarian based in the south of Leeds.

Although I love reading and will read anything and everything I am particularly drawn towards crime, especially those with a psychological edge.
I’ve picked a few of my more recent reads to share, I hope you enjoy them!

Lynn The OneThe One by John Marrs

Oh wow, this book gripped me from the start,  I couldn’t put it down. It features matchmaking with a difference, where a simple DNA test will match you with your perfect DNA genetic match. But of course nothing is a simple as that because of course we all have secrets. What if your match lives at the other side of the world or is a serial killer, what do you do? I felt the confusion, the excitement and fear of all the characters in this excellent read.

Lynn Gone without traceGone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

A brilliant novel of psychological suspense that asks, if the love of your life disappeared without a trace, how far would you go to find out why? Hannah Monroe’s boyfriend, Matt, is gone. His belongings have disappeared from their house, images removed from social media, he’s not at work, it’s almost as if he never existed! All is not as it seems.

Lynn CoupleThe couple next door by Shari Lapena

A great debut psychological thriller novel. A dinner party next door is not a good night out. The wife Cynthia is all over Anne’s husband Marco and the birthday boy Graham is his usually boring self. Anne and Marco’s babysitter cancels at the last minute, and Anne is persuaded to leave the baby and to rely on the baby monitor. Hours tick by and Anne’s unease increases – they return home after midnight to find the baby gone and she and her husband are the chief suspects. The twists and turns of the plot will you keep you on your toes.

Lynn Apple Tree YardApple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

Yvonne Carmichael is a strong independent professional woman who embarks on an ill-fated affair with a mysterious man she meets at the houses of parliament. They both end up in court charged with murder after many plot twists, lies, and intrigue. This book is both creepy and compelling with devastating consequences for all concerned. The book in my opinion is much better than the tv adaption.

Lynn Something wickedSomething wicked by Kerry Wilkinson

Nicholas Carr disappears on his 18th birthday, the world moves on except for his father, Richard. His last hope is Andrew Hunter, a private investigator. Andrew will need to go back to basics to try and find out what has happened to Nicholas, revisiting the site where three of Nicholas’s fingers were found and talking to friends and family. Andrew and his assistant mysterious assistant Jenny delve further into Nicholas’s life and discover he was getting involved in something dangerous……

And for a crime novel with a very local flavour:-

Lynn Skin Like SilverSkin like silver by Chris Nickson

This book features Detective Tom Harper and is set in Leeds in October 1891. An unclaimed parcel at the Central post office is discovered to contain the body of a baby boy. A fire at the railway station leaves a fireman dead and the body of a young woman is recovered, although it soon becomes apparent her death isn’t as a result of the fire. Tom works with former colleague Billy (now a fireman) to solve the case and during their investigations they find links to the suffrage and socialist causes, votes for women, abusive husbands and much more. The story reveals a lot about the political agenda at the time and the changing role of women including that of Tom’s wife. The plot builds to a violent end.

Book Advent

This blog is from Rachel, the children’s librarian in Central library.

Book AdventWe are approaching that magical time of year where we count the days till Christmas. I have a daughter who has just turned 3 and doesn’t like eating chocolate (I know it’s hard to believe). So for us chocolate advent calendars are just not that exciting. The one thing she really does love is having stories read to her especially at bedtime. We are strong advocates of the Books Trust’s Bath, Book and Bed campaign, see more here. Each year we just combine the two things, bedtime story and advent and make it a little bit more special in the build up to Christmas Eve. I select 24 picture or board books and individually wrap them with a number tag on, 1-24. Each day we unwrap the book to read for that day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make books exciting, enjoy those quiet moments of bonding and learn about Christmas traditions.

24 books sounds a lot, but that’s the brilliance of the library service, I just borrow the majority of them. I use some old books we already have at home, I’ll buy a couple of new books for her collection and borrow the rest. I like to get a mix of stories, some about sharing, giving and kindness and some that tell the tale of Christmas traditions. Here are some of my favourites.

Rachel GiantThe Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson.

A story of kindness, sharing and giving. George was very happy being the scruffiest giant in town. But one day, when he sees a shop stocking giant-size clothes, he decides it’s time to update his image. With smart clothes, George is a new man. However, as he goes home, he meets various animals who desperately need his help

Rachel JollyThe Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet Ahlberg.

A lovely story about letters at Christmas time. It’s Christmas Eve and the jolly postman is delivering greetings to various fairy-tale characters – there’s a card for Baby Bear, a game called ‘Beware’ for Red Riding Hood from Mr Wolf and four more surprise envelopes.

Rachel FatherFather Christmas by Raymond Briggs.

Meet Father Christmas: a very human gift-giver with a tough job to do. You’ll find out that he sometimes gets a little grumpy living at the icy North Pole and squeezing down chimneys, but he more than makes up for it in heart and
humor. Raymond Briggs brings this endearing character to life in over 100 wonderfully illustrated vignettes that follow the adventures of Father Christmas on his big night of the year.

Rachel StickStick Man by Julia Donaldson.

Stick Man lives in the family tree with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three’. But it’s dangerous being a Stick Man. A dog wants to play with him, a swan builds her nest with him. He even ends up on a fire! Join Stick Man on his troublesome journey back to the family tree.

Rachel StockingThe Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis.

This is a fun story about siblings being naughty or nice but ultimately being kind and doing the right thing. It’s Christmas Eve and everyone is asking – have you been good this year? For twins Sam and Charlie this is a big worry. Charlie has been especially naughty and everyone is sure she won’t get any presents at all. But when Santa makes a mistake, it’s up to Charlie to put things right. Will her last-minute act of kindness be enough?

Rachel weeFather Christmas Needs A Wee by Nicholas Allan.

At each different house that he visits, Father Christmas drinks and eats all the goodies left out for him. Before long he really, really, really needs a wee. Find out what happens, and whether Father Christmas ever gets to relieve himself, in this funny counting book from Nicholas Allan

Rachel nightThe Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.

A classic magical story of the Christmas Eve. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. Clement Moore’s popular festive poem about a visit from Santa Claus, illustrated in colour by Tomie DePaola, is a delight to share with children.