Over the past few days Leeds has been hosting a literary festival called the Big Bookend. The Big Bookend describes itself as a Rock Festival for Words. This was the third year for the Festival. This year there has been a wide range of authors hosting a diverse range of activities and events for all ages held in a variety of locations throughout the city. Some of the events were free. Some charged a modest admission price. All events have been very well attended. The wonderful thing about the Big Bookend is that it celebrates the enormous wealth of local and very successful writing talent that we have in Leeds.
I went to four events this year, which is not as many as I would have liked!
The first event I attended was a book launch, which is always exciting! Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel from 26 year old Emma Healey. It has as its lead character Maud, who is in her 80s and suffers from dementia. Although Maud forgets many things she is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is Missing but who will believe her? It was interesting to hear how Emma wrote this book. She comes across as being very engaging if slightly unsure of her talent. This is despite the fact that publishers were fighting over the rights to publish Elizabeth is Missing and the TV rights have been sold already!
On Saturday I went to two events. They were very different from each other but both very enjoyable. Author John Lake talked about (and read excerpts from) his trilogy set in Leeds 6. I then heard a fascinating talk, “Where is Chapeltown and What Does it Do?” given by Max Farrar, Emeritus Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University.
However, the highlight for me was an Audience with Alan Bennett on Sunday afternoon at West Yorkshire Playhouse. We had been to see his play Enjoy at the Playhouse on the Friday evening but to actually hear the great man talk had me tingling with excitement. As you might have guessed, I am a big Alan Bennett fan. He is one of those authors whose voice you can hear in your head when you read his books. He was immensely amusing and very sharp with his observations on life. He was born and brought up in Leeds and retains his love of the city. Apparently, he comes up to visit on a very regular basis. He clearly enjoys the fact that people feel they can approach him and talk to him about his works. His way with words is wonderful. One quote I remember from yesterday is “I like it when I arrive at the station and everybody talks like me”. Clearly a man who has not forgotten his roots …
Alan Bennett is such a brilliant raconteur and it was truly a privilege to hear him live.
Well, last weekend was our last Bank Holiday weekend until August. That is such a shame. I love the luxury of Bank Holiday weekends. Just having that extra day tagged on to the weekend seems to make all the difference. Did I make good use of that extra day? No! The weekend mainly consisted of housework, gardening, cooking and I managed to fit in some reading. My daughter unexpectedly came round for dinner on the Sunday and stayed the night, which was lovely. The high point actually came on Saturday afternoon when I went to a book sale at The Leeds Library and then went on a tour of the Library.
The Leeds Library is fascinating. It is the oldest proprietary subscription library in Britain. Founded in 1768, it counts Joseph Priestley (the chap who discovered oxygen) as one of its former members. The Library now occupies a first floor property above shops in a busy street in the centre of the City. What I did not know before going on the tour was that the Library owns the shops beneath it. The rent from the buildings provides the library with an income that has helped it to survive where other similar libraries have been forced to close. The Library adopts a policy of members being able to look at and touch every single book in the library, however old and however rare. Just the thought of it sends a tingle down my spine! When you go around the library, it is like stepping back in time. I could just imagine sitting in one of the comfortable chairs for hours occasionally plucking a book off the shelves to browse through. They even have a card index system; something I had not seen in a library for a few years, although we were assured there was an on-line catalogue! Nevertheless, however lovely, it is a subscription library and although the membership fee includes all reservations, loans, participation at book clubs, talks, and a film club, the cost is £120 per adult. Unlike the public libraries in Leeds, this library is only open 9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday and from 9.00 – 13.00 on Saturdays. As someone who works full time, those opening hours are too restricted for me to get value out of the subscription fee. Perhaps when I reach retirement it may seem a more attractive option…
Fortunately, we are lucky in Leeds to have a high quality, thriving public library service that provides a truly excellent service. A free library service is a wonderful thing and we should all do everything we can to support it.
Today I have spent the last hour or so scrolling through the public library catalogue. Why? Because I need to select and reserve suitable books to deliver to a gentleman who has had a stroke and is therefore no longer able to visit his local library to select his own books. It’s part of the Library At Home service offered by my local council run library service. I have been volunteering for the Library At Home service for about six years. This does mean that my poor borrower has had to put up with me descending on him once every three weeks for the last few years but he doesn’t seem to mind! Over this period of time we have established a very good rapport and friendship. He has become used to my inane chatter. My awful jokes. And my occasional off the wall book choices! I do try and take him a variety of books and inevitably some prove to be better choices than others …..
Against all the odds, he does seem to enjoy my visits and I get a great deal of pleasure from visiting him. He is such a lovely man. I always stop for a chat about the books I have chosen for him and to generally catch up with his news. He likes to hear about my family, my job and all the dramas that befallen me in the last 3 weeks. I derive a great pleasure from choosing books for him. I often read book reviews and think, yes, this is something he would like to read. Or if I discover an author he enjoys, then I seek out further books written by that author. A few years ago I used to work for the library service and one of my greatest pleasures was discussing books with the customers and suggesting new authors or genres. My role as a library volunteer allows me to selfishly continue with this passion.
I am lucky that I have a volunteering role that involves my love of books and reading.