I was seven years old when I began my lifelong love of libraries. I loved reading and there just weren’t enough books around to satisfy my appetite. I’d got through the school reading programme and was able to choose which book I wanted but the choice was limited. Lots of ‘easy’ versions of classic books such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’ – books that had been written a hundred years or so ago, but I wanted books that were about children in today’s world, books I could identify with and engage with.
I read and read and read, beside the fire on cold winter evenings and under the bedclothes at night when I should have been going to sleep. Books hooked me, I always had my nose in a book. However boring life was, a book could lead me away from everyday life and into fantasy worlds that would excite and inspire me. To my mind, a book was a ticket to an adventure, and that’s something I’m always speaking about to the children I meet. One day my Mum took me along to the library and showed me the children’s section. There were shelves full of books by Enid Blyton that I’d never read. I joined Ramsgate library at that point and I’ve been a library member somewhere or other ever since. I carried home two books that day and two days later I’d read them both. Back we went for two more. At least twice a week I took books out of the library. Once I’d finished with Enid Blyton, there was Jennings, and his friend Darbishire, in a series of books by another wonderful writer called Anthony Buckeridge. They were set in a boys’ prep school and I was captured from the first one.The books were funny and Jennings was always in trouble, particularly with his form teacher Mr. Wilkins who was a man with little patience and a fiery temper.
I roamed the woods and built camps with ‘Just William’ and the Outlaws, Henry, Ginger & Douglas. The books by Richmal Crompton were wonderful. It was a boy’s world that she described although the gang were often bothered by Violet Elizabeth Bott who demanded that she played with them otherwise she would, “Thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick”.
( No, that’s not spelling mistakes, it’s how Crompton wrote it in the books!)
I then read the Billy Bunter stories written by Frank Richards.These were set at Greyfriars School where Bunter was a pupil. Bunter was an unlikely hero in that he was ‘stout’ deceitful, lazy and a glutton for food. He would do anything he could to find food even if it meant helping himself to his classmates’ cakes and sweets. Often this would result in him receiving ‘a good kicking’ once his crimes were discovered.
After I’d devoured all the Billy Bunter books that the library had to offer, I discovered the Biggles books by Capt. W.E.Johns. These were originally written for an older audience but appealed very much to young boys. Biggles was a fictional pilot who had flown in World War 1 and in the years that followed the war. Longing for such adventures ourselves, we would imagine ourselves sitting alongside Biggles in the cockpit of his plane while he shot down German air aces in the war, or battled criminals around the world.
In the late 1950s, there was also a library in Boots the Chemist, and I joined this too as they seemed to have different Biggles books to the ones I found in the Public Library. Odd to think that once Boots had a library when we think about the shop today.
There were very few ‘Young Adult’ books around when I became a teenager and by the age of 14 I was reading books from the adult library. I think I should have been 16 to enroll but the library staff knew me from my regular visits, and with my Mum’s permission, I was able to start a whole new reading adventure. There was a little guidance from the librarians but very quickly I was out on my own and the library became a treasure chest for me to explore and sometimes find a gem. I read all the Sherlock Holmes books, and later, on James Bond, although my Dad rather disapproved of the Bond books!
It dismays me these days to hear of so many libraries all across the country being closed down by councils. Do they have any idea how important libraries have been and still are? Ramsgate library suffered a fire a few years ago but has now been rebuilt and looks stunning. Sometimes I go back to Ramsgate to tend my parents’ grave and I always call in at the library to take a look around and to remember that it made me a reader for life. I owe that library a huge debt of gratitude.
(Originally posted on Brian’s blog. Shared with permission of the author.)