We have a library in Drumnadrochit, which is part of the new school building – it’s at the front in the round bit. I’ve just started going again recently as I fancied delving into Russian novelists once more and it looks like I gave my own copies of Tolstoy etc away a long time ago.
I had Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago out before Christmas and very much enjoyed reading it again along with the coincidence of the film being on the telly during the holidays. Very indulgent days along with a glass or two of Cava and florentines. Returning to the library today to only take it out again, I asked the librarian if there was any Tolstoy. The shelves in the public part of the library were void of anything ‘old’.
“Yes”, she said. “In the back here we have all the Millenium Project fiction and non-fiction”.
And so they did. Books donated to schools through the millenium commission. ‘A series of 250 volumes in Everyman’s Library which have been distributed to 4500 state schools throughout the United Kingdom’. So why were they in the back I asked. The reply was that children at the high school showed no interest in the books, so they were given to the library. Apparently the children didn’t respond readily to the look of the covers. She was clearly disappointed, as are all of us who have worked with books, when people seem to dismiss a good story because they are judging the book by its cover. They were kept in the back as they weren’t that popular. The books I took out today hadn’t been touched since 2003 to 2006, Dr Zhivago being the exception – a year before me.
If you look up The Millenium Library’s website, you’ll find that it doesn’t exist. But if you go to your local high school or library, they may well have those volumes in there, hopefully…..
I’m not going to break into a rant about the teaching of the subject known as English, our modern-day emphasis on plot-driven instant story-telling or cheaply made paperbacks with tacky type. Nor will I suggest that we should be more grateful for what we have been given. So you can carry on reading from here. But what I would like you to do is to take a look at the list of the books and ask yourself what the relevance of them is to the interpretation of human existence and what we can learn from the stories told.
The librarian and I shared a love for Russian authors, one visitor said she thought it was all too high-brow for her. But, I said to her, “They write so simply in our modern-day language”. And they write about love, politics and pain. Maybe that’s what puts people off these days. Love hurts in real life, Hollywood offers fairy tale romances where all ends well. Alas, not so in these books. I will enjoy my Tolstoy, Pushkin, Pasternak and Dostoyevsky. I do meet people on occasion who have a similar taste in novels as I do -but not many….unless there are more to confess out there?