Wednesday, November 12

Bought new for £2.95 - how many years ago?

I'm reading a book which is enjoyable. It's exciting, quite frivolous, and not too hardcore. It's not particularly experimental, it doesn't try to be very flashy; it's actually understated. Not the best of her works maybe, but still worthwhile I'd say, especially to provide the context of the others. My problem isn't with the novel itself at all - rather, I'm curious about why it has never been taken out of the library before. Why, to be precise, this has gone unread by so many potential readers.

This is a pretty key author I'm talking about; someone who's neither obscure nor rarely discussed. Not one of her key works, but still, why hasn't it been read before me? If the book (a beautiful hardback, with an equally glorious cover - have to admit it!) was bought for £2.95 new, then it must have been bought several years ago.

Problem is, this book isn't on the shelves. Instead of being on the shelves (where there is lots of nice, 'light' reading) it is rejected, only allowed space in the basement. My quarrel with this is that, as someone who largely discovered reading through picking stuff up off the shelves (in libraries, second-hand bookshops, charity shops, shelves of my friends' parents etc.) I worry that people are missing out.

Sure, it's a good feeling when the pages are untouched, nice and clean, unsmudged, without any wear... but it begs the question of why these books are going unread, and what people are missing out on.

I admit it freely: if I find witty or pertinent annotations in a book, or perhaps even a post-it stuck in or a note referencing another work or an essay, I am intrigued. I'm nosy, curious, whatever you want to call it: I want to know. About books, and about what the people before me have thought. I like picking up a book and having some kind of a link between the people who've enjoyed it (or not, as the case may be) before.

We need to bring these books up from the basement. Put them in between the trash (like in charity shops, sometimes!) Put them amongst the chick lit or smuggle a few into the precious 'teenager literature' section. Let people find them and develop their own tastes for what they enjoy. Let them have a choice to read the amazing literature, to write faint comments in the margins, to pause and think and go back and read again and keep on discovering.

PS: The book is a novel of Woolf. PPS: A great deal of what I have come to love has been through these forays where I have stumbled across works I hardly knew anything about. PPPS: I'm not too sure about defining 'key'. Maybe someone else can!

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