Monday, June 01, 2009


Reading To Be Cheerful (Part Lots)

One of the disadvantages of the Summer months is that the light makes me more likely than ever to wake up at half-four (though the temperature’s more conducive to being in my nuddy, a reason to be cheerful, obviously). And when very short of sleep, I tend to be slower and grumpier. How to raise my spirits, as putting on a DVD might wake my beloved? So, this morning’s thanks go to Mat Bowles and Nyder’s Dyner for particularly cheering stories about books they found on the Internet. And to Ian Dury, for putting a great song in my head. In other aged pop news, it was forty-two* years ago today…

Mat’s fabulous and inspiring story is of a teenager in a strict Catholic school in the USA who was frustrated by the school’s long list of banned books. When a friend asked to borrow one of them from her, she started up a secret lending library from her locker, including books such as His Dark Materials trilogy, The Canterbury Tales (which I studied at my not very strict Catholic school), The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, The Godfather, Mort, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Animal Farm (which I also studied at my not very strict Catholic school) and The Evolution of Man (which I was taught about at my not very strict Catholic school). What a fantastic idea.

When I was a teenager in my not very strict Catholic school, I only stood in the playground and read aloud from Spycatcher, then told anyone in earshot that they were breaking the Official Secrets Act. The book was rubbish, though, and put me off my brief interest in spy non-fiction. Though typing that makes me think not of a book but of Earshot, one of the finest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and another highly entertaining, intelligent and thought-provoking response to school which was banned for a time.

Now, some comments have suggested that this story of a secret library isn’t true. Who knows? Only the person who first posted it. I assume it happened in the absence of actual facts, but does it really matter if it didn’t? That would make it an inspiring fiction that’s spread across the world to tell people reading’s cool… And that’s a story worth telling, anyway.

The other – and much sillier – book-related piece that I belatedly came across this morning is of something from the 1980s that vies with my Magnus Greel and Mr Sin toys as the most blissfully unsuitable products ever aimed at children. Back in 1983, David Lynch released a famously impenetrable film of a book where all the important conversations take place in italics inside people’s heads (“For he is the Quicksand Hatrack!”). I saw Dune when I was thirteen, and loved its strangeness, but I wouldn’t say I was exactly a mass-market demographic. I wouldn’t have looked at colouring books by then, but I missed out – this Dune Colouring Book is fantastic, and it I'd have enjoyed it enormously at thirteen. Mainly in the same way the article does. Weird creatures uttering arcane threats, glistening pustules and dead bodies… I think the writer and illustrator here knew exactly what they were doing.

Why don’t I get back into bed? Hmm… Maybe when Richard (who’s up now) has gone off to work, and the light’s a bit less bright. In the meantime, I’m knackered but having quite a cheery morning.

* Actually sixty-two years ago today, if you think about it…

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