Posts in Opinion

Books and libraries sing to me

Posted Wednesday 25 April 2018 by Guest blog writer in Author blogs, Opinion

"That Poetry Bloke" Craig Bradley got in touch and so we naturally asked him to write something about reading and libraries. Here's what he said...

I have always been a reader. I can't remember learning how to read. Those little lines, loops and squiggles, that we call words, just made sense to me. Deep inside. They just clicked. I was very lucky.Numbers didn't though. Far from it. Despite my mum paying for extra maths lessons, I was well into my teens before timetables and long division sang to me. Even now their song is a bit out of tune. But books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing.

"books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing."

Craig BradleySo you can imagine what i thought of my local library. It was on the council estate where we lived. From the outside it was a gloomy drab, ugly, concrete building at the end of a row of run-down shops.  But when my Nan took my sisters and me inside, it was like walking into another world. A crazy, beautiful, slightly bonkers, endlessly fascinating world of ideas, imagination, language and stories.

They were books everywhere. We had a few at home- granddads encyclopedias and such - but nothing like this. This was on another scale. They were rows and rows and shelves and shelves of the things. Therer were so many books that they were piled up on the windowsills and tables.To me, it was like every book in the world was in this room. And the best thing was i could take one home. In fact, the lady who gave me my little pink "Childrens Borrower" library ticket said I could take up to seven books home. Now! Today! Seven actual books! I could read one a day for the next week. 

"That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave"

Craig Bradley BrusselsAnd that's what i did. I read and read. I wasn't fussy - made up stories, true stories, old stories, new stories- you name it, i'd read it. Libraries opened up a whole new world to me. It was magic. No other word for it. That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave, (Aladdin being one of the very stories i read by the way). By giving me access to loads of books, it gave me access to loads more people and the stories that they told, about their lives and the world that they lived in. I couldn't tell the time or do my timetables but I could read stories and, in doing so, became aware of another world beyond the council estate I lived in. I also read about other people who couldn't tell the time and felt like i wasn't on my own. Libraries did that and i thank them for it.

And you know what, they still do.

Craig Bradley is freelance writer, poet ad performer and has spread his love of reading through class and library visits. His website is here.

A Vintage evening: book previewing in Manchester

Posted Wednesday 28 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Vintage inviteOne of the serious perks of being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week which I want to tell you about.

The Vintage 2018 preview event took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday evening.  It turns out that the bookshop has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.

So what happens? Well, you walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and his wife, who were fascinating.

Then the event properly started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea and the new one by Yuval Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.  If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.

Irvine WelshOK, now on to the speakers. Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book Dead Men’s Trousers.  This is a “twisted redemption” for his characters.

Then we had Damian Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which Damian Le Bashad links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?

Diana EvansDiana Evans came nest with Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the bulletproof stage".  I love fact as well that the book has a playlist.

Andrew MacMillanPoetry is a notoriously hard sell but Andrew McMillan, now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book, Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the pains of growing up generally.

Christie WatsonThe next speaker grabbed the attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going  to stay with me for a long time. Such is the work of Christie Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here.  She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can move  from gruesome morbidity to humour in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse, not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot to do it with Christie, she was that good.  There was a 14-way auction for the rights to this book and I can see why.

Abir MukherjeeAh, but then we had the infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose “Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India. It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read some now.

Abir then proved very popular in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

X-Boxes, Hamster and Pizza: Children's letters to Jane Austen

Posted Wednesday 14 February 2018 by Ian Anstice in Jane Austen, Opinion

One of the most lovely things, to me, that came out of the Travelling Letter Exchange project, where people were invited to write a letter to Jane Austen, was the responses of one school from Stockport. Broadstone Hall School got a lot of their children to write letters and they're a real pleasure. Have a look at some of them here.

The letters were written on Halloween, which the kids explained to Jane as being "where you knock on doors and say trick or treat and they give you sweets" and, interestingly (not come across this myself but it's genius), "when you are done you normally go back to my house and count your sweets and whoever has more you get to eat the first sweets".

Jane AustenAnother big topic was how different life is now compared to Jane's time. Transport came up again and again, with bikes, trams, busses and planes being often mentioned. And then there are computers. Oh my, there's a lot about computers, with X-Boxes being the main theme, including the line "I'm nearly always on my X Box because I could literally not live without it". Worryingly for me, books only come up once or twice, although quite a few expressed an interest in reading some Austen one day. Which was nice.Some were also curious as to how Jane herself lived, asking her if she lived in a castle or normal house or if she "struggled for money".

It was fascinating to see how different children's hobbies are now to when Jane wrote. Lists like "thai boxing, guitar, mountain biking and swimming" were not uncommon. Well, Jane might have been able to do two of those I guess. Another child listed hobbies where a whopping two (art and dance) out of three would have been possible for Jane. I don't think Jane did the third one though, which was rollerskating (or did she?). 

Life at school was also a favourite, with comments like "I didn't bring my PE kit. You probably didn't go to school since most girls didn't in your time" showing awareness of how much things have changed. And then there was food.Food was a big topic. Burgers, hot dogs, pancakes and pizza. There was a lot said about pizza. One girl bravely pointed out how much meat is eaten and said that she was vegetarian. My youngest daughter is also vegetarian so more power to her, I say.

Family was mentioned a lot, especially mums, and - for some reason - hamsters. Hamsters are clearly a big thing in Cheadle. Mums were mentioned a lot more than Dads, sorry Dads, with my most cherished comment to Jane being "My life is good because I have a lovely Mum ... I would tell you more about my life but sadly you [Jane Austen] are dead"

There's so much humour in these letters but they give you a real feel for what children consider important. And as long as they can write these down in letters then they give me hope, X Box or no X Box.

The best books of 2017?

Posted Monday 18 December 2017 by Ian Anstice in Opinion

So, here we are heading to the end of 2017 and it’s been another bumper year for new books, new authors and all things literary. Here at Casa Time To Read (Tiempo para leer?) we encourage you to read what you like, just so long as you read, but with so much choice out there, what should you go for? Well. here's a few suggestions, or rather a short list of suggestion lists.

Books of the year 2017To help you with your Christmas wish list, the Reading Agency have published a list of their top reads for 2017,  compiled by their staff and some library colleagues. The list includes poetry, non-fiction and short stories too, so there's something for everyone here. If that's not enough, though, have a look at Esquire, whose list includes many more.

If you fancy a bit of time travel, then you can go back to the Telegraph's list of what it thought would be the best books of 2017, published a year ago. And Amazon has a different list, again, here.

If you want to get more specific, you can always have a look as well at the GoodReads 2017 book lists, which include all sorts of categories (like "most anticipated" and YA novels) and will be sure to have something that you'll love.

But all of those are national or even international. How about something closer to home? Well, the good folk at Halton Libraries (Runcorn and Widnes) have put their favourite reads (not necessarily from 2017, just the ones they enjoyed this year) on to their catalogue here. And, yes, we at Time To Read love Tim Peake too.

So do you agree with any of these choices? Something you love missing?

We would always love to know which book you are going to snuggle up with over Christmas, so tweet us at @timetoreadNW and share the book-ish love.

Also, don’t forget that if your favourite library has closed over Christmas and you have possibly run out of things to read, Don’t panic, help is at and. Head over to your library’s ebooks webpage, which are free to loan with your library card. See your own individual library authority website or social media for details.

Wishing all our followers and readers a very happy Christmas and here’s to an even more book-ish 2018
North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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