Tag Archives: library staff

What are you reading today?

It seemed like a good time to ask this again – your library staff and their reading habits have been left uninterrogated for too long. So here is a snapshot of answers to the question – a broad spectrum of themes and genres, as you might expect. Click on the links or the cover images to find out where they’re in stock in Westminster Libraries:

Calamity in Kent by John RowlandBritish Library Crime Classics

I’ve been working through the ‘British Library Crime Classics’ series – reissues of long out-of print crime novels from the Golden Age of crime writing 1920s-50s.  I have recently read Calamity in Kent by John Rowland and Serpents in Eden: country crimes edited by Martin Edwards (a collection of rural mysteries).
[Malcolm]

Theft by Peter CareyTheft, by Peter Carey

A book about fraudulent art and the love between two brothers who can’t stand themselves, and can’t live without each other.  It keeps me chuckling on the train.
[Ruth]

Web series, by Mary Balogh
I’m currently re-reading Mary Balogh’s Web series, which covers the lives and loves of two families.
The older brother marries the sister of the other family (The Gilded Web), the twin brother meets and marries the widow of his best friend when that friend is killed and he is injured during the battle of Waterloo (Web of Love). The vegetarian by Han KangThe twin sister marries the brother of the woman that married his older brother (Devil’s Web).
[Gill]

The vegetarian, by Han Kang

It’s weird, beautiful, dark and intense. I can’t compare it to anything I have read in a while.
[Zsuzsanna]

The girl with all the gifts by MR CareyThe girl with all the gifts, by MR Carey

This is a cross between Never let me go and 28 weeks later. A virus has turned the people of Britain and possibly the world into flesh eating zombies…
I don’t usually read sci-fi books but this is classed as fiction and really got me hooked – I love it.
[Michaela]

Innocent Eréndira and other stories, by Gabriel Garcia MarquezInnocent Eréndira and other stories, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A book of short stories decorated with the vibrant and vivid images that are typical of Marquez’s novels. The book begins with The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. The ease of reading these tales and the length of each makes this a wonderful collection to read alongside a longer and more difficult book, or to read with someone else.
[Michelle]

Birdsong by Sebastian FaulksBirdsong, by Sebastian Faulks

This is my current book club read and I am near the end now. If you want a powerful sense of the insanity of WW1 and the way it broke just everything, this is the book for you. I will be cheering myself up with some Terry Pratchett.
[Anon]

The professor, the banker and the suicide king: inside the richest poker game of all time, by Michael Craig
This is a book about an American banker and entrepreneur called Andy Beal, who took it upon himself to challenge the best Texas Hold’em poker players to a series of heads-up/one-one-one matches in Las Vegas in the early 2000s. He ended up losing several millions after initially being ahead. It’s a great read as it gets into the psyche of the professional poker player, and demonstrates just how precarious a living being a professional gambler really is.
[Steve]

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex RossThe Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross

A very readable history of music from the early 20th century starting with Mahler, Strauss and Wagner, the development of classical music in America, music under Nazism and Communism etc.
[Hilary]

My Brilliant Friend by Elena FerranteMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I’m currently reading volume three (there are four volumes in total) of this trilogy. A masterpiece! An epic tale of two women and the powerful nature of their friendship throughout their lifetime. But it’s also the transformative story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country in its violent and intellectual political and historic contest.
[Debora]

[Ali]

“It’s a lovely job – I’ve been so lucky”

Jennifer, library assistant at Maida Vale LibraryMeet Westminster Council’s longest serving staff member:
Jennifer is a Library Assistant at Maida Vale Library and has worked for the council for 46 years.

Having grown up in Weston-super-Mare, Jennifer was working in Bristol Libraries until a friend got a job with Westminster City Council in 1970. Inspired to write “on the off chance” that there might be library work available, she was offered an interview in Marylebone and then a job, returning to Bristol to work out her notice. That done, she moved to London and started work at Mayfair Library the very next day.

While the change from Bristol to London took some getting used to, Jennifer found being in the centre of the capital with all its opportunities really exciting and has never looked back. She soon moved from Mayfair Library to Maida Vale Library and there she has stayed.

Maida Vale Library“Maida Vale Library is so full of character, it used to be a Methodist Church and has appeared on television in Minder, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and lots more”.

Of course, working life was quite different 46 years ago. One of the main changes that Jennifer has noticed is a more egalitarian environment:

“I remember how formal it was. There was no calling anyone by their first name,  we were all Miss, Mrs or Mr and then our surname”.

And libraries themselves have changed and grown.

“The job has changed significantly from when I first started. Back then it was just books. Now we are a one-stop shop, social centre, we offer pension advice, English classes, toddler groups and we are the only council department where anyone can come and see us.”

Books by Ruth Rendell in Westminster LibrariesOf course there are still books too, and Ruth Rendell, who visited Jennifer’s former workplace of Mayfair in 2013 and lived locally until her death in 2015, is a particular favourite.

“She describes her characters so well and the places she sets her books are ones I know.”

When talking to Jennifer her enthusiasm for her work and workplace is palpable. It’s great to know that the library service can inspire such dedication that we have the longest serving employee in the whole of the council.

“Do I enjoy it? Well I would have to, to stay this long! I love the work, the people, and the environment. I love seeing my regulars and having a chat whilst building relationships within the community.”

Thanks Jennifer.

[Ali]

Libraries in fiction

I was prompted to these thoughts having recently re-watched Ghostbusters which, as you may remember, starts inside the magnificent New York Public Library with the ghostly terrorisation of a librarian by levitating books and flying catalogue cards. In the future remake of this film I wonder how the film makers will get round the inconvenient fact in the intervening years catalogue cards have gone the way of the dodo in most libraries…

In this example the library was simply a location for the plot. Another example is Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Here the library is used as an example of locked room murder mystery so popular in early crime fiction. Other authors such as Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Dorothy L Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) used college libraries as part of the Oxford setting of their novels.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter

Libraries however have played a more significant role in some relatively recent crime novels. Sue Grafton’s detective series is set in the 1980s, in other words pre personal computers / the internet and such library resources as Newsbank. Therefore in several novels in this series, the investigator Kinsey Millhone visits her local library to consult old newspapers issues on microfilm.

More recently I have enjoyed reading Donna Leon’s novel By its Cover, set in an Venetian academic library. This novel starts with the discovery of a theft of an early printed book from the collection and leads to a murder. As a librarian I was cheering Commissario Guido Brunetti on in his efforts to solve these crimes.

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton By its Cover by Donna Leon Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

One fictional library together with its orangutan librarian loom large in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It would be a very foolish thief or murderer to enter this library to commit a crime. If The Librarian did not apprehend the felon the chances are that the magical books would. This is the library whose contents were chained to protect the user from harm rather than to protect the books from theft. In fact there was one library book theft in Pratchett’s novel Guards! Guards! A book on summoning dragons was successful stolen to order as part of a plot to overthrow the city ruler. Not that it did the conspirators much good, as the summoned dragon quickly incinerated them.

A hero to many library staff, Discworld’s The Librarian is a member of a small elite group of senior librarians who have the knowledge and ability to travel through L-space, an extradimentional space that connects all libraries and other large accumulations of books; a skill that alas has not passed onto this member of staff. I can’t speak for my colleagues.

[Francis]

Reading Agatha Christie on her 125th birthday

Book by Agatha ChristieOutsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, Agatha Christie (15.9.1890 – 12.1.1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time.

She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap.

Described as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, Devon in September 1890. Educated at home, she taught herself to read and was soon writing poems and short stories.

It was during the First World War that Agatha turned to writing detective stories. Her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles took some time to finish and even longer to find a publisher. She started writing partly in response to a bet from her sister Madge that she couldn’t write a good detective story and partly to relieve the monotony of the dispensing work which she was now doing.

It was not until 1919 that a publisher, John Lane of The Bodley Head (the fourth to have received the manuscript) accepted The Mysterious Affair at Styles for publication and contracted Agatha to produce five more books. She chose a Belgian refugee detective, Hercule Poirot as her sleuth – Belgian refugees were a common feature in England during the war.

Subsequent books introduced new characters – Tommy and Tuppence and Miss Marple who were to feature in many further titles.

Endless Night by Agatha ChristieRecommendations from Westminster library staff:

“The Agatha Christie novel I remember most clearly is the one-off Endless Night. Part romantic gothic, part murder mystery, the story is unlike most other Christies I’d read and I can still remember my shock and disquiet at the ending.
To say more would ruin the mystery!
– Maarya

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie“I love Murder on The Orient Express. The plot is so well organised, so many red herrings, you could not possibly work out who the murderer(s) are. A complicated homicide as the murder depicted here would never happen in real life.
The book was made in to a stylish film with a glittering array of high end actors which is a joy to watch.”
Laurence

A Murder is Announced, by Agatha ChristieA murder is announced – our family listened to it in the car on talking book cassette (borrowed from our local library of course) on a very long drive all the way down to the Pyrenees. Despite it being very sunny and French outside we were all enraptured by the rather old and stuffy villagers of Chipping Cleghorn. It is the first Agatha Christie I came across and do to this day prefer Miss Marple to Poirot.”
– Amy

Lord Edgware dies, by Agatha Christie“I love Lord Edgware Dies because it’s the perfect example of Agatha Christie’s skill in creating a murder mystery which seems utterly impossible, but once explained feels so simple you can’t believe you didn’t solve it yourself.”
– Grainne

 

Christie’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1928. She travelled to the archaeological site of Ur where the following year she met Max Mallowan who was to become her second husband. Several books were influenced by their travels in the Middle East such as Death on the Nile and They came to Baghdad.

Agatha Christie writing as Mary WestmacottFrom 1928 Agatha also wrote non-crime novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott. She continued writing through the war and post-war period, although now there was much time-consuming work with theatrical productions which limited the time Agatha could devote to writing.

On 3 December 1926 Agatha Christie’s life featured a real life mystery when she left her home alone. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale, previously of South Africa. She was eventually recognised by the hotel staff on 14 December, who alerted the police. She did not recognise her husband when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family.

Agatha Christie died in January 1976 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Cholsey, near Wallingford.

You can find out about events being held all over the country to celebrate Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday by visiting www.agathachristie.com. If you’d like to read books by Christie, take a look at our new Agatha Christie reading list.

[Malcolm]

 

“Bless ‘em all! The long and the short and the tall!”

All ages singing together at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015So says the popular World War II song; and judging by the enthusiastic response, the long, short, tall, old and young were indeed feeling blessed by Westminster Music Library’s World War II sing-along.
Our event was part of the BBC’s inaugural National Music Day“a nationwide celebration of everything we love about music, with the aim of bringing people together from different generations and communities through their love of music.”

 On Friday 5 June we filled the  Library to the brim, uniting members of local community group Open Age along with troops of children from St Barnabas CE primary school for a morning of singing, celebrating the finest of the Second World War’s musical legacy.

While the struggles of wartime were very hard for soldier and civilian alike, our selection of songs served to communicate the positive qualities brought to light through the conflict: hope, in We’ll meet again; love of country, in There’ll always be an England; and bravery, in The white cliffs of Dover. Comradeship, too, of soldiers all-too-wary of their Sergeants and Corporals, is wonderfully represented in our ironic opening number, Bless ‘em all, whose composer, Fred Godfrey, assuredly informs us, “… furthermore, it wasn’t ‘Bless.’”

BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015

For our guests from Open Age, these songs were gateways into memories of growing up post-war, and for some, even during wartime. “Very nostalgic,” commented one visitor, although another justly observed, “I think it could get emotional for some people here.” Indeed, nostalgia can often rose-tint our recollections; for some the hardships of wartime are still very real memories.

For those of us young enough to have no such memories, the musical legacy of this time is a unique look into the past, and certainly our year six pupils from St Barnabas valued these as such – “A week ago these songs were completely unknown to the class,” commented their teacher.

Ruth leading the singing at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong at Westminster Music Library, June 2015We were grateful to the children for their hard work in rehearsing the songs to sing with us, and thrilled to hear that they’d even given a ‘preview’ performance to the rest of the school in their morning assembly before coming here.

Their earnest singing boosted our ranks, and was especially appreciated during the final number – Roll out the barrel – when it became apparent to many of us in the audience that we couldn’t encourage our vocal chords to hit the high notes!

One person who has no such singing woes, though, is Ruth Walters, who masterfully led us through the entire programme, accompanied by Anthony on piano. As well as being full-time staff, they are accomplished and experienced musicians, along with the three other members of the Music Library team: Miriam, Andrew and Jon. The high standard of performance is often commented on at events such as this one and we are grateful to our staff for using their musical talents so effectively.

Some of the Westminster Music Library team

We were also joined by Sam, a reporter working for Westminster Council, whose interviews and photo-calls really excited the children. A group photo taken at the end of the school children and staff serves as a lovely reminder of an exciting morning.

Children and WML staff at the BBC Music Day WWII singalong event, June 2015

After refreshments and much chatting, our guests left us, and we set to work opening up the Library to the public for another day. We enjoyed having people of all ages and backgrounds for our sing-along, and, in the words of Vera Lynn, here’s hoping “we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

[Jon]