Story telling from Australia
Public libraries are surely one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, havens of solace and joy offering free entertainment and endless discovery. Magic happens when you pick a book off the shelf, scan the first paragraph and lose yourself in a story that transports you to another world, all the while sheltered and protected in the warmth and welcome of a public library.
But what if you can’t read? I’ve been thinking a lot about libraries this week, partly because I launched a book in Broken Hill library last Friday, and partly because I attended the AGM of the Friends of Balmain Library on Wednesday. I once worked as a librarian, albeit not a very good one, and libraries have always been a source of delight for me.
If you can’t read, what good is a library then? Does it become a threatening place? Does it even register? Many years ago I used to occasionally take a back seat in church – any old church, any time of the day, wherever I happened to be – and more often than not I’d leave moments later in tears. Why? Because I didn’t feel like I belonged. All that beauty and serenity didn’t sooth me; it only served to remind me how unhappy I was, and how much I longed to understand and accept love.
Thankfully life has changed and now I can sit in church without sobbing, not that I go very often (hypocrisy and the hierarchy of power put me off). I hate to think that there are people who might feel the same about libraries, where an entire world of joy and wonder is closed to someone who can’t read.
I never gave up occasionally sitting at the back of a quiet church – even though I didn’t participate in the service – and it brought me solace of a kind. Would the same happen in a library? Perhaps. Thankfully, as Lyn French knows, it’s never too late to learn to read.
There is pleasure in handling a book, especially an old one that others have handled; something of their spirit lingers in the fragile pages and worn covers. I love the near-translucent sheets in my aunt’s old prayer book, or the parchment-thick pages and black and white illustrations in the gardening encyclopaedia I inherited.
My two favourite places are a garden and a library, and to my mind there is no greater pleasure than sitting in a garden on a sunny day, sheltered by trees, reading a good book.
It’s so much easier to do that in someone else’s garden of course, where the weeding won’t have to be done and wilting broad beans won’t demand to be staked; where the leaves don’t need to be swept and the citrus trees don’t have to be fed; where caterpillars can be left to munch on cabbage leaves and the slugs can plan their assault on the strawberries.
Perhaps that’s why I’m looking forward to visiting Cath Marriott in the Victorian high country around Benalla next week. Cath has created an astonishingly diverse garden on her organic sheep farm, Yarallah, which boasts sweeping views across sloping paddocks towards a meandering creek bordered by mature trees – it’s paradise on earth, in my humble opinion.
I doubt if there will be much time for reading, but I’ll slip a book or two into my bag, just in case.
For anyone reading this post within striking distance of Benalla, I’ll be talking at the local CWA in Benalla on Thursday June 4, at 2pm.
Meanwhile I’m off to my local library, in search of a good book.
PS Remember that stubborn final fig I told you about? It ripened while we were in Broken Hill and I sliced it for breakfast this morning – a delicious reward for cultivating patience.