Books, glorious books … and A.L. too

A worn-out, old book is a well-read, old book (image supplied by Lin Kristensen)

A worn-out old book is a well-read old book (image supplied by Lin Kristensen)

I’ve recommended that working writers should read A.L. Kennedy‘s columns on the writing life in the Guardian — if you haven’t already, start immediately.

The Scottish novelist has a wonderful ability to write about her own concerns and personal situation without sounding self-indulgent (not easy to do as any of us on WordPress know).

And she got me to thinking about books again, about why we love them so much, and why a Kindle or Nook can never replace them.

In a paragraph from a recent column she describes her satisfaction at (finally) having all of her own books shelved instead of stored in boxes:

From here I can see the spine of The Wind in The Willows  – the same volume I read in bed when I was a child. It has been my friend for more than 40 years, there for me, a kind light. Here is the volume of Raymond Carver I threw across the room when I was a student because it was so amazing, so tender with broken people. Here is Alasdair Gray and his mind-blowing Lanark, which taught me the courage inherent in thinking and creating when I had no courage of my own. Here is my library.

How many of us can say the same? Let’s see a show of hands. Quite a few.

It’s not the number of books that you’ve read that matters–it’s the depth of the reading, right? Kennedy doesn’t sound like she has an inordinate number of books, but a special, carefully-selected collection. When she says, at the end of the graf, “Here is my library,” what she really means is, I think,  “Here is my family.”

6 responses

  1. From the excerpt, it seems like she does a good job sharing her own concerns in a way that others can relate to and maybe that’s how she avoids the self-indulgent sound you can end up with so easily. Because I know I didn’t read that paragraph just thinking about her books; I was thinking about the books I own and feel the same way about 🙂

  2. You’re totally right — something just happens mid-paragraph where you’re suddenly thinking of your own books. It’s a beautiful ability she has that you’ll find in her other posts as well. Even when she’s writing about being ill and trying to finish writing a novel, it’s without that woe-is-me tone.

  3. Yes, thank you, Nick, for sending me in her direction. She is a treat to read.

    My own books? They are my advisors, my neighbors, my kin. I don’t know if I could live without them, and I don’t want to try.

    Electronic readers could never replace a hard copy filled with essential marginalia. I’ve got notes scribbled all over my copy of “Demonologist.” Post to come…

  4. Where would we be without marginalia! There’s a function on my Nook that allows you to stick in notes, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

    That’s great Jilanne! Can’t wait to read your post on Pyper’s novel!

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