Expectations are not always beneficial I find. I have too many of them and most of them come from within, rather than without. Things happen that are beyond our control. Sometimes it’s better just to get on and accept that rather than waste precious time and energy self-criticising. Part of me suspects I am putting off the moment when I might have to say something negative about a work by my literary hero (I am half way through the latest book by Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro). Therefore no individual book review from me this week. But I have found some fascinating library related quotes.
The following extract comes from a remarkable account of the saving of books In Daryaa, a town in Syria (less than five miles from Damascus), during Assad’s regime. The above extract is taken from an article which appeared in The Guardian, Tuesday, 16th March 2021.
“They had been under fire from Bashar al-Assad’s rockets, barrel bombs and even a chemical weapon attack for many months. Syria’s president had besieged the town since November 2012. Like many others, Muaddamani’s family had packed their suitcases and escaped to a neighbouring town. They begged him to follow. He refused – this was his revolution, his generation’s revolution.
One day in late 2013 Muaddamani’s friends called him – they had found books they wanted to rescue.
‘Books?’ he repeated in surprise.
The idea struck him as ludicrous. What’s the point in saving books when you can’t even save lives?”
Nevertheless the young man was persuaded to try.
“An explosion had ripped off the house’s front door. The disfigured building belonged to a school director who had fled the city leaving everything behind. Muaddamani cautiously felt his way to the living room, illuminated by a single sliver of sunlight. The wood floor was carpeted with books, scattered amid the debris. With one slow movement he knelt on the ground and picked one at random. The title was in English. Something about self-awareness. It turned out the subject matter didn’t matter. His insides turned to jelly, an unsettling sensation that comes with opening the door to knowledge.”
“In subsequent days the collection effort continued in the ruins of abandoned houses, destroyed offices and disintegrating mosques… bringing back to the world the life buried in wreckage.”
“These young Syrians cohabited with death every night and day. Most of them had already lost everything – their homes, their friends, their parents. Amid the chaos, they clung to books as if to life, hoping for a better tomorrow, for a better political system. Driven by their thirst for culture they were quietly developing an idea of what democracy should be. An idea that challenged the regime’s tyranny and Islamic State’s book burners. Muaddamani and his friends were true soldiers for peace.”
The young men who saved those books and glued them together in an abandoned basement, creating book shelves out of bits of wood and found paint, had not especially been bookworms or great readers. Nor were others who picked their way through the rubble to the newly created library – mainly men. They were recognising the words yes, but propaganda and lies are also constructed out of words. There is a difference between the right words and the wrong. These trampled and coverless works, the glued pages, were vital parts of one of the fundamental building blocks of a civilised society, and that is education.
One young man is quoted as saying: “Books don’t set us limits; they set us free. They don’t mutilate; they restore. Reading helps me think positively, chase away negative ideas. And that’s what we need most right now.
And a book I have talked about before written by Martin Latham a bookseller in Canterbury. The Bookseller’s Tale (Penguin, 2020)
“I now propose Latham’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that, upon entering a bookshop you cannot know both who you are and who you might become, because you are both memory and instinct.
Something strange happens when you wander aimlessly among books, you begin to shed your identity. The Greeks call it kenõsis, an emptying of self in preparation for being invaded by the divine will. If we are all a series of impersonations, and all the world’s a stage, book browsing is a way of going backstage in our minds.”
And a word from Virginia Woolf:
“Here we balance ourselves after the splendour and misery of the streets, among wild books, homeless books…”
(‘Street Haunting’ found in Latham as above).
Those of us who read, write and generally promote the written word, are all soldiers for peace. Here are some links to UK literary festivals forthcoming in 2021.
Seren Cardiff Poetry Festival 2021 here. All events (apart from workshops) are free.
2021 Hay Festival online here
North Cornwall Book Festival here
The Bath Festival here