Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Read in May

I finally got round to reading E F Benson's Mapp and Lucia. I have read the earlier tales about Lucia's life in Riseholme,Volume 1 of  a two volume paperback edition and enjoyed this tale of two socially ambitious women vying for supremacy over one another in a small seaside town, to the amusement of both other characters in the story and the reader. Widowed Lucia decides to take a house in Tilling  for two summer months after making up her mind that after a year of grieving she needs to re-join society. The house is Miss Mapp's and thus Lucia sets in motion the social rivalry between the two ladies.There are several highly amusing set-pieces in the book, such as the fete at Riseholme,  organised by Lucia before the death of her husband; the Art Exhibition at Tilling; the visit of the Italian Countess which revealed Lucia's lack of knowledge of Italian and finally the piece de resistance, the flood and its aftermath.
A clever and enjoyable tale, light-hearted enough, but also exposing the petty snobbery and shallowness of the main characters .

I picked up my copy in a charity bookshop while on a short visit to my brother-in-law, as I had read some interesting reviews of the book, and had also read Francis Spufford's The Child that Books Built, a memoir of his childhood reading after a family tragedy. This is his first novel and for me a really good read. Set in New York in 1746, Richard Smith arrives from London with an order for £1000 in his pocket, but will not say for whom or what purpose the money is intended. Richard Smith has several adventures while waiting for the money to be sorted out: he  is entertained by the important families in New York at the time, a mix of Dutch and English.  He has his purse stolen, leaving without ready cash; he meets Mr Lovell, the banker who is to provide the cash for the money order, and Lovell's daughters, Flora and Tabitha; he gets into a fight, he is called to fight a duel with a man who is apparently friendly to him. Eventually we discover Richard Smith's real reason for his visit to New York. I enjoy historical novels and thought this a good read. The author has clearly done his research thoroughly, although sometimes near the start of the story I did wonder if the style was a pastiche, but the events carried my reading along for an interesting read.

How can a former librarian who worked in public libraries for over 30 years not read a book of this title? The short stories in  this collection all have something to say about the influence of literature, words, phrases, a particular writer on the author. These intriguing stories were interspersed with comments from librarians, library users and other who are and have been influenced by them as well as those affected by library closures that have taken place over the last few years and are still ongoing in many places. Although Ali Smith does not not say it in so many words, one of the contributors does -that closing public libraries affects the most vulnerable in society and that says something not very nice about those doing this - that they don't care about the poor and the vulnerable. Personally I think it is a bit more complicated; that local government who are the providers of most public services have invidious choices to make: do they provide social care for the poor, the vulnerable, the elderly or do they provide public libraries and other public services which have been cut. Their budgets have been slashed and choices have to be made as to how best to spend the money they do have. Nevertheless, it is wrong to close public libraries, as doing so probably contravenes the Public Libraries Act of 1964, which is still in force, but has been ignored by successive government ministers in charge of public libraries. Closure also impacts particularly on the youngest and oldest in society, as a local library is often one of the first places that children can go to on their own, as they are regarded as a safe place to visit. As some older people become unable to drive or travel on their own, so a local library becomes an important source of information and entertainment.
There are details on public library cuts at as well as some good news about public libraries.

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