Pride Month 2022 with our volunteer, Ren

Hello! I’m Ren, a volunteer at Chandler’s Ford Library, and I’ve been asked to tell you about some of the wonderful books we are recommending to you during Pride month 2022.

This Pride month Hampshire libraries are uplifting and celebrating a diverse range of queer voices and spotlighting their works through the theme of ‘coming of age’. Coming of age is an intense time of self discovery, something we all go through, but as queer people coming to terms with the fact you are different from what society expects of you can be scary, but at the same time also freeing. This freedom and celebration in the face of fear is what our ‘coming of age’ pride recommendations celebrate.

As many of you will know Pride started as a riot. Following the Stonewall uprising in 1969 after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, people took to the streets in 1970 to march for queer rights, these marches are now known as the first Pride. Understanding this history of Pride is essential in acknowledging how far queer rights have come. Because of people like Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, a movement started to push for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people and over time has allowed these protests to grow into celebrations all over the world, uplifting and bringing together the queer community, showing any queer person who feels alone that they can and will find their people and their pride. With how large Pride has become over the years LGBTQIA+ people can now to come into their identity in a much more accepting society.

On a personal note, I’m so proud to be a part of a library service which celebrates queer identities and has such a diverse range of books, and that the book world continues to publish a diverse array of queer voices and stories. It’s amazing to know how many books are available to so many people who can recognise themselves within their pages, and feel at home and seen there. Many of the queer books available and coming into the library will allow people to feel seen in ways they haven’t been before and that makes me so happy. Having pride in your identity is a strength, let these characters’ stories show you that.

Within the pages of these books you will see characters go through the growing pains of life as they come into their own, not just linking to the LGBTQIA+ elements of their identities, but holistically how their whole identity effects their life and how they interact with the world around them.

I hope everyone, people a part of the queer community, questioning, or an ally wanting to diversify their reading, will take this Pride month to read LGBTQIA+ books. Hampshire libraries have a wide array of LGBTQIA+ books available to borrow through our services, either in branch, through our home library service or on BorrowBox (our eBook and eAudiobook service).

There has been a delightful list of queer books curated by our staff, featuring diverse and unique stories which I encourage everyone to look at, as well as checking out the rest of our catalogue and displays in branch for your LGBTQIA+ book needs! Below are some of my personal selections and a little bit about them. (As always make sure you look up any possible trigger warnings before jumping into these stories!)

Hani and Ishu’s guide to fake dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
Queer rep: Lesbian main character, Bisexual main character

In this sapphic story two opposites fake a relationship for their own gains. Hani, easy going and popular, has told her friends she is dating Ishu after they told her that she couldn’t be bisexual if she has only dated guys. Ishu, an academic overachiever, has agreed to fake date to boost her popularity in the hopes of becoming head girl. Through this story of self conviction and self love these two Bengali teens learn what it means to be there for each other and to believe in themselves, no matter what other people may say.

Felix ever after by Kacen Callender –
Queer rep: Transgender main character, Achillian main character, Lesbian side character, Gay side character, Sapphic side character, Non binary side character

Felix Love wants his own happily ever after, but, even with the pride he has in his Black, queer and transgender identity, he is worried he’s one marginalisation too many. After he starts receiving transphobic messages and his deadname and photos of him pre transition out him at school, Felix sets himself on getting revenge. What he didn’t set his sights on was landing himself in a quasi-love triangle.
Through this tale of exploration, identity and love follow Felix as he learns who he is and what he truly deserves.

Loveless by Alice Oseman
Queer rep: AroAce main character, Lesbian side character, Pansexual side character, Nonbinary side character

Georgia is obsessed with love… at least she is in theory and fiction. After a disastrous attempt to confess to her chosen crush goes horribly wrong on prom night she commits herself to finding someone at university. With the help of her outgoing university roommate Rooney, and best friends from school Pip and Jason she is sure to find love, right? But, as Georgia learns of the terms aromantic and asexual, she has to learn if love is in the cards for her at all or is she destined to stay loveless.
This story shows the growing pains of moving away from home, the beauty of friendships and the freedom in finding who you truly are.

Annie on my mind by Nancy Garden
Queer rep: Lesbian main character, Lesbian side character

The history of this book is one to acknowledge, it has been controversial in the past, being banned from many libraries and even being burned in Kansas City! Luckily now the world is much more accepting and this book is acknowledged as one of the first portrayals of a healthy queer relationship in the YA genre.

In this sapphic book two young girls meet at a museum and quickly form a bond which starts as friendship and blossoms into more. Despite the pressures and expectations of family, school and society the two know they need to be true to themselves and how they feel, and through the help of an unexpected source they may just gain the freedom they need to stay together. This book grabs onto your heart with its exploration of coming to terms with your identity and finding pride in who you love.

Behind the bookshelves with a Library Team Assistant

Find out what it’s like to work behind the bookshelves, how libraries become a part of the community, and what three novels Libby would take with her to space.

What is your role and what do you like about it? 

My name is Libby Saer and I’m a Library Team Assistant with annualised hours. It’s like being a supply teacher, except for libraries. If one of the team is ill, on leave or doing some training, I step in to cover for them. Sometimes it’s just for the day, but often it’s for the week or longer. Fortunately, (if my memories of school are anything to go by) people are much nicer to library assistants than teenagers are to cover teachers…)

Not having fixed hours means that every week is different – and I love that. I’m usually at Hedge End, West End and Netley libraries, and each has its own particular atmosphere and loyal users. It’s fun to work with colleagues I may not have seen for a while, and to help customers with requests. I do everything from helping new members join, to tracking down the next book in someone’s favourite series. I love hearing about which books people have enjoyed (or not) and trying to match someone with a book they might like. Sometimes I find items that aren’t in the right place and send them to the library they are meant to be in, a job I find bizarrely satisfying. Even tidying books is more fun because I’m not doing the same set of shelves each week.

What did you do before you came to Hampshire Libraries? 

A bit of everything. I’ve taught in secondary schools, catalogued books in academic libraries, worked in marketing for universities, and provided pastoral care for students. Often at the same time as volunteering at church, at a community-run library and raising my children.

What made you want to work at Hampshire Libraries? 

I’ve lived in lots of different places, and everywhere I’ve been I have joined the library. Libraries are magical places to me. So, when I had the chance to volunteer in a community library I jumped at the opportunity, and I loved it.

I don’t think I really appreciated until then that a library can be a warm refuge for people who need it. For lots of people I talk to, their local library is a lifeline. Whether someone needs to make a Universal Credit claim, apply for a job, find a different book to read to a toddler, or even if they’re just curious about the world – the library is the place for them. I spoke to a student from a low-income family recently, who told me that without her local library – the kind encouragement of the library assistants and access to stories and information that widened her world – she would never have made it to university.

Once I was volunteering, one thing led to another and before long I was offered a job with Hampshire Libraries – getting paid to do what I already loved doing.

Is there anything that surprised you about working for Hampshire Libraries?

Quite often when people come into one of our libraries, they see me and their faces sink a little bit because I’m not the person they’re expecting to find. It’s lucky I’ve got thick skin! They’re relieved when I tell them I am just a temporary substitute, and their usual library assistant will be back soon. It’s really brought home to me how libraries build connection. Someone who works in the local library becomes a key part of the community. Ask anyone who has been in the job for a while, and they can tell you what the regulars like to read, where they are going on holiday, and how their health is. And the customers know their names and like to ask how they are doing too. It’s lovely.

Another surprise was just how many books someone can get through in a week. Sure, I expected to see younger readers leaving with piles of children’s books and then coming back the next Saturday for more. But many of our older customers get through an enormous stack of novels in a day or two. They can tell you exactly which authors to check out, so it’s always worth asking them if you’re after a good recommendation.

If you had to live out the rest of your life on a lonely space station overlooking the planet, what 3 books would you take and why? 

You may as well ask me which of my kids is my favourite. (Hint: it’s the one who unloads the dishwasher without being asked). But after much sighing and reluctant crossings-out, I’ve managed to narrow it down.

I’m going to assume that I get Desert Island Discs privileges, so this space station comes equipped with the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. And – shhh! – I’m going to smuggle aboard my e-reader stuffed with novels by my favourite authors: Jane Austen, John le Carré, Dorothy L Sayers, Robert Galbraith, Lee Child, Georgette Heyer, John Wyndham, Rosemary Sutcliff and Hilary Mantel.

But if you are going to allow me just three actual books in my space luggage, I guess I’ll pick the following:

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

I first read this as a teenager and have read it to all my children in turn. Conservationist Durrell really wrote two different books in one: a natural history of the Greek island of Corfu with beautiful, detailed depictions of the landscape and the wildlife, and a hilarious account of living on the island in the interwar years. The escapades of his family would make me giggle, and, as I looked down from the cold expanse of space, his warm descriptions of the island would bring alive to me the amazing beauty of our planet.

Smiley’s People by John Le Carré

I could have picked any one of Le Carré’s early books, but this humane, intriguing and tense espionage novel is one of his best. Like a game of chess, he carefully moves every piece around Cold War Europe until – checkmate – George Smiley, the retired spy refighting the battles of his past, meets both victory and defeat. Every character is wonderfully drawn, from the civil service mandarins covering their backs to the émigrés from behind the Iron Curtain being used as pawns by the security services. Le Carré never wrote more exquisite prose about the human cost of the secret life.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

Sayers was one of the queens of the Golden Age of crime fiction. If you haven’t read her Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories – what are you waiting for? Don’t start with this one, but when you get to Gaudy Night you are in for a treat: it’s a cracking mystery set in an Oxford college, centred not around Wimsey but Harriet Vane, the woman he loves. More than mere detection – although certainly not less – it’s a sharp and funny meditation on work, love and integrity, asking a question today’s feminism still wrestles with – is it possible for a woman to have it all? My copy is falling apart and I refuse to be separated from it, even if I go into space.

Behind the bookshelves with an Area Manager

We caught up with one of Hampshire Libraries Area Managers, Liz, to find out how she came to work with the libraries, her time as a children’s librarian, and her top picks for younger readers.

How did you come to work at Hampshire Libraries?

I’ve always worked in libraries. When I left school, I started working in the libraries in Hull. I went off to university but came back to working in libraries in North Yorkshire after. I came to Hampshire as a Children’s Librarian in Fareham. That was a brilliant thing to do because it’s all about getting the right book to the right child at the right time. It really shaped my way of working. I’m an Area Manager now, so I manage an operational team, keeping the libraries open and developing services, but I think I’ll always be a Children’s Librarian by trade. As a Children’s Librarian, you have to be quite comfortable in front of large groups of children, telling stories in quite extravagant ways. I got to meet so many children’s authors and illustrators as well through book launches and the Wessex Book Fair.

I was so enveloped by children’s books at that time. Parents would come to me with questions like “my child doesn’t really like reading, do you know a book that can help?” or “my child has to go to the dentist soon, are there any books that will help them feel less scared?” and I needed to know those things. Books enable children to articulate what they’re feeling because children don’t always have the language to tell you what they’re thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody through a book than it is to have a direct conversation, especially when children are learning to communicate. Reading develops so much more than literacy and language, it’s empathy and understanding too. Even as an adult reading them, you learn things about the world you didn’t know before. Whether it’s about somebody else’s culture or about being a refugee, they just help you to understand somebody else’s life.

When I was younger, I really struggled to learn to read. I can still remember how humiliating it was because I just couldn’t do it, it was hard. So, I wasn’t really much of a reader when I was a kid, but I think that’s why I really believe it is about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.

Where do you like to read?

I read in bed a lot, but I really enjoy reading on the train. I have family in Yorkshire and if I go to visit them, I like to go by train so I can read and relax. I’ll always take a couple of books with me because I think it’s important to give yourself permission to stop reading something you aren’t enjoying. When we’re younger we have to finish the books that we’re told to read because they’re on the curriculum, and that can make reading feel like a lot of work. But one of the brilliant things about being an adult is that you don’t have to do that.

How do you read?

I usually read in small bits and get through books that way. I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks, I do own an e-reader which is great for reading at night, but I do prefer a physical book.

What do you read?

I’m reading a book called Coasting by Elise Downing and another book about triathlon training. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction lately, but I really like novels and depending on my mood I do love a bit of Chick Lit. I enjoy books with central female characters and books about women’s lives. One novel that really stayed with me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. I really love the writing of Tracy Chevalier, I think they’re just great stories and her novels can give such an insight into the daily hardships of women from the past. Another author who does that really well is Kate Atkinson, particularly in her book Life After Life. The book is set during the second world war and really impressed on me how difficult it is for us to understand what it must have been like to live through that.

In terms of non-fiction, I really enjoy reading books about endurance sports. Over Christmas, I read Relentless by Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic triathlete. It’s a really interesting book because he talks to lots of different sports champions about their mindset and training, from footballers to darts players. I do triathlons and love cycling so it’s definitely a topic that interests me.

I must admit though, in times of stress where you just need a story to wash over you, a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine is Alan Titchmarsh’s novels. They’re so easy to read and there’s always a happy ending. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about something they’re just a proper escape.

What books would you recommend for children and teenagers?

A lot of my favourite picture books aren’t very new, but I think the sign of a good picture book is that it can really stand the test of time. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen would be my first pick. It’s a very simple story about a magical balloon but the book has fold-out bits and some lovely language. I was reading it to a group of children and afterwards, I heard a boy say “I know what indestructible means” because it was used in the book. He must have only been about three or four years old, but he understood that word and how to use it because it was in the book. To me, that just perfectly illustrated how important picture books really are. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy, it’s a great story about poor Mr Bear trying to find somewhere to sleep but wherever he goes there’s a different noise that keeps him up. Another wonderful book is Winnie the Witch by Valérie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul. We had a visit from Korky Paul a few years ago and he saw a Winnie doll that I had made myself. He said he liked it so I made me one which lead to him signing a book for me addressed to “The Witch Maker”. But the book I would always give to a new baby is Dear Zoo which is such a classic.

Another genre I do love is teen fiction or YA. I’ve read so much teen fiction it’s difficult to pick favourites but one I really enjoyed is Beauty by Robin McKinley. It’s a wonderful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Quite different but equally brilliant is Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful which is just such a beautiful book. I had a flick through the last couple of pages earlier and it still brings me to tears. When it didn’t win the Carnegie medal for children’s fiction, I was just so disappointed.

If you like books that are a bit more whimsical, I would really recommend Skellig by David Almond. It’s about a couple of kids who find a man in their shed, but the man has wings so it’s as if he’s an angel or something like that. All of David Almond’s books are set in the Northeast of England so they’re all grounded in the Newcastle and Northumberland area. He has this quite beautiful way of writing that builds the relationships between the characters really strongly. Some of them can be quite gritty so the books have quite a realistic aspect to them as well.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a must read as well. It was recently turned into a TV series. It shows a different perspective of racism, it’s one of those books that really open your eyes, especially if you’re white.

What books have you loved that might get overlooked?

I really like books about people and their lives. A book I enjoyed reading recently was 12 Birds to Save Your Life by Charlie Corbett. After his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently died, he found a way through his grief by reconnecting with the world through nature and bird songs. It’s more about his experience than about nature so even if birds aren’t your usual subject, you can still really connect with the story. A similar book is the amazing true story by Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. It’s about how she and her husband became homeless just as her husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With nowhere else to go, they decided to walk the South West Coast Path. She talks about how it just gave them purpose and time to process what was happening. I actually bought it for my niece last Christmas because, it’s such a wonderful book, I just thought she had to read it.

Books and me: On my shelves with Jordan Cleary

Jordan Cleary from Winchester Library tells us about his favourite Young Adult (YA) books, LGBTQ+ stories, and the importance of representation in our reading.

Where is your favourite place to read?

I don’t read as often as I would like, but when I do get a chance to read, I like to do it in what I call a reading nook. It’s actually just a chair in the guest bedroom next to a bookshelf, but I like to call it that so it sounds more elegant than it actually is. I’ve tried reading in bed before, but I just can’t get comfy. Whichever side I lean on, one of my arms goes dead, so I usually just go to the nook.

Before I worked at Winchester Library, I was at New Milton Library which meant an hour commute on the train every day. I used to get through so many books because there’s not much else to do on a train and it was a good amount of time to just sit down and get stuck in a book. Now I work in Winchester and my commute is about 5 minutes. It’s much more convenient for me but I do miss having that dedicated reading time.

How do you read?

In an ideal world I would read about 20 maybe 30 books a year. We don’t live in an ideal world, so I read roughly 5 books a year. I don’t like reading in small chunks, I like to have proper sessions where I can just get my head in a book. I don’t like dipping in and out of a story because I like to really spend some proper time with the plot and the characters. I usually finish a book in three or four sittings, so if I don’t think I have enough time to read, I just won’t. I have tried audiobooks before, but I always find myself having to skip back because I’ve lost track of what’s going on in the story. So, for me, it can end up being more stressful than just reading. I do always carry a book with me though in the hope that I might find an hour spare.

I personally would never dog-ear a book; I really like to treat my books with care. Though I did once have my collection of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries by Robin Stevens displayed on a windowsill before I knew how badly books can be sun damaged. Each cover is a different bright colour, so they looked really nice all in a row on the windowsill. But the sun aged the paper and bleached all the colourful covers. Never again have I put a book on a windowsill. But I’m pragmatic in so far as, if you have bought a copy of your own book, I don’t care how you treat it. It sounds sentimental, but I actually think it’s really nice how we leave traces of ourselves in the books we read. Whether it’s a note in a margin, a coffee stain, or a folded page, the book can take on qualities of us and almost become a memory in itself.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been getting into graphic novels a lot because that’s one of my stock areas at work and YA is one of the genres that I really love. I’m reading the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman at the moment. It started off as a webcomic and is actually running as one still, but it became so popular that it began being published in volumes as a graphic novel. It’s a really sweet love story about two teenage boys in a British sixth form. There’s a lot of YA romance out there but I found Heartstopper quite different because it takes the story at quite a deliberate pace. I think where it started as a webcomic, the relationship is allowed the space and time to evolve in a far more realistic way. It also carries on after they fall in love as well and it’s really far more about their relationship after getting together which is quite rare in YA I think. It touches on a lot of different topics that are so important for us to learn from, from eating disorders and mental health, to homophobia, it’s the kind of book I wish I had as a teenager.

Reading patterns

My reading goes in cycles. I’d say I’m primarily a fan of fantasy, crime, and YA, though I do like natural science and true-crime books too. I picked up my interest in true crime mainly from my mum. Before I went to university, we would quite often stay up watching forensic documentaries and true crime stories. Right now in my genre cycle I’m in a YA phase, but I’ll probably come back to reading crime soon, it’s dependent on my mood.

I often check book blogs for recommendations, especially because I like LGBTQ+ novels and books that are quite off the beaten path. Although I don’t really believe we should pigeonhole a book based on its cover, it is often the first thing that jumps out at you about a book and covers often do a good job of telling you what kind of a read it’s going to be. If a crime novel has a dark, gritty aesthetic then you know that’s going to be quite a different book to the fluffy one next to it. It’s a good way to pick a book if you don’t have much time.

First loves, best loves

When I was younger my favourite author was Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series. They’re beautifully written, setting heavy novels and they have maps to help the world building in the front too; I love a good map in a book! Dragon Rider is another one of her novels that I loved when I was a bit younger. It’s about a boy trying to help a dragon find its home and they fly all over the world together, it’s very sweet and probably where my love of fantasy came from.

The lack of variety of books when I was growing up was a big problem in the early to mid-noughties. I grew up in a time where Section 28 was still enforced which meant that local authorities and government-maintained schools couldn’t promote or endorse LGBTQ+ content or represent those families. Even though it was repealed in 2003, it took quite a long time for schools, libraries, and councils to catch up and take up an equality angle. So, even in secondary school, I don’t remember being taught or shown stories that reflected me or others from the LGBTQ+ community. I’m sure they were out there somewhere if you knew where to look, but when you’re that age and coming out you don’t really know where to turn. I think unless those things are shown to you it’s quite easy to think that there are no books anywhere that actually represent who you are. But publishing houses are improving greatly at that and I think it’s great that schools and libraries are able to wholeheartedly promote these books and showcase these stories now. I didn’t have that growing up and it’s something that I feel like I really missed out on. I’m 26 now but I’m still reading a lot of YA fiction, I feel like I’m catching up on the books I would have read growing up if I had had the chance to.

Overlooked delights

I think children’s books are quite an odd genre because often it becomes dominated by celebrity authors who are marketed really well but aren’t necessarily popular for the quality of the books. I would really encourage people to explore some of the lesser-known children’s authors that are writing incredible books. The last children’s book I read was Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Many people may not have heard of him because he’s a debut novelist, but it’s a brilliant urban fantasy about the ‘bureau of supernatural affairs’. One of things I love about this book is that it features a black girl, Amari, as the main character. Too often when people of colour are included in books it’s as a supporting role. But Amari is prominently shown in centre stage of the front cover as the main character. It’s a children’s book, of course, so it doesn’t get too heavy, but it does touch on classism and bullying in a really interesting way and it explores that through some of the fantasy elements too. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an alternative to Harry Potter.

Another I would recommend is Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series which is aimed more at young teens. It’s set in an alternate London where, because of something they call “the Problem”, ghosts appear at night and attack the living. Young people are the only ones able to sense the spirits so agencies are set up for them to investigate “the Problem” and fight the hauntings.

For me, I would like to get into horror. I don’t really enjoy horror films because I find them too scary, but I’d really like to try the book alternative. I’d love to read some of the classic horror novels like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Jordan Cleary is a Library Team Assistant at Winchester Library and the Vice Chair of Hampshire County Council’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network. Jordan was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and me: On my shelves with Sam Peters

Honest autobiographies, elegant crime fiction, and Disability History Month. We caught up with Library Manager Sam Peters to hear about the books that are most important to her.

Where is your favourite place to read?

As a child I used to love reading on the stairs. One of the houses I grew up in had this curved staircase with a sunny spot part of the way down, and that used to make a perfect little place to read in. I also have a really vivid memory of reading the Harry Potter series one Christmas at my friend’s home in Amsterdam. It was the first time I had been away for Christmas and whenever I reread Harry Potter now, certain parts of the story transport me straight back to that sofa in Holland. These days it’s more about when I can find the time to read, so that is often in the staff room on my lunch breaks.

How do you read?

I love an audiobook and Borrowbox is brilliant for that, I think we’re so fortunate to have something like Borrowbox available to us.  I think if you’re not a big reader, or you find reading hard, or you just don’t have that much free time, audiobooks are a brilliant way to still have access to those stories. I enjoy the stories that have been dramatised and sound like radio plays. I listen to a lot of the older detective stories because I find the period really interesting, the Paul Temple series is one of my favourites, but I’m a big fan of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories too.

If I’m not listening to an audiobook, I like to read a paperback book. Every now and then I’ll come across a great book that I really enjoy and it’s so hard to put it down. I had that with both of Richard Osman’s books, The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I just carried them around the house and kept reading. They’re just so funny and I love the setting of the retirement village.

What are you reading at the moment?

I definitely read more fiction than non-fiction. For me, reading is a way to escape to somewhere different as much as anything else, but I have been reading some interesting autobiographies lately. Ellie Taylor’s My Child and Other Mistakes talks about her becoming a mother and her introduction to motherhood in a really funny and feminist way which was nice to read.

Right now, I’m juggling two autobiographies but they’re both really quite different. I’m reading The Storytellerby Dave Grohl and My Unapologetic Diaries by Joan Collins. Dave Grohl’s book is quite a structured look at the bands and music that influenced him, whereas Joan Collins has literally published her uncensored diaries across a certain period of time. So, although they’re both autobiographies, they read totally differently.

I’ve also just finished The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which I just couldn’t put down. It’s a perfect read for anyone that loves a strong female lead. It’s very much about the character of Evelyn and her life, her husbands are a very small part of her story. 

Reading patterns

When I was younger, I would just go to the section of the library with surnames that matched the authors that I liked to see what books were there, but I think now I’m quite comfortable with what I like to read. I’m a fan of what I call ‘elegant crime fiction’. I love crime fiction, but I don’t like all the gory bits. I stick to the more mainstream books from the genre because I don’t want to risk reading something I won’t enjoy as my reading time is very precious. I don’t like leaving a book unfinished so I’ll always keep reading in the hopes that it will get better.

First loves, best loves

I was given a copy of Jane Eyre for my eleventh birthday and I just loved Jane. I thought she was so brave and strong, and her story is so interesting. Reading it as an adult I definitely pick up on parts that went over my head as a child. But it’s all about her choices and what she wants, and, for the period it was written, I think that’s actually really significant.

Another one of my favourites when I younger was An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley which I had to read for my GCSEs. I absolutely adored it and over the years I’ve seen it performed three or four times. It’s one that I always try to introduce people to if they don’t know it and about two years ago, I took my teenage children to see it and they loved it too.

As a crime fiction fan one of my favourites has to be Agatha Christie. I liked that she wrote female murderers, though the idea that a woman could do such wicked acts caused some controversy at the time. She allowed women to be complex and central characters and I think that’s a lot of why her books are still relevant today. If you compare Thursday Murder Club with Miss Marple, Richard Osman has clearly taken inspiration from Christie.

I went to Burgh Island in Devon a few years ago which is where And Then There Were None was set. Much of my bucket list is about visiting the places that Agatha Christie set her books, going on the Orient Express is pretty high up on the list.

Another author I love is Simon Brett. When I first started off with Hampshire Libraries, we sent him an email just to test the water and see if he would consider doing an event with us. He replied and was really excited and offered to do the event for free because he said he really wanted to support the library. I met him at Lymington Library and was the nicest he could have been I really enjoyed seeing him.

Overlooked delights

As it’s Disability History Month I’ve been reading Take Up Thy Bed and Walk by Lois Keith. It talks about the issues with how disability is presented in society and the histories of these ideas. Like in stories such as Pollyanna, where the disabled character is punished for wrongdoing, or the disability that the lead character has must be cured for the story to be resolved. I think it’s really important to talk about how these views in the world are formed because we’re still having to fight a lot of them. As someone with what would be classed as a hidden disability, it’s something that’s close to my heart and I’m glad that we can enable these conversations in the library with some of the brilliant books we have. I think reading can be a great way to challenge our pre-conceived notions or unconscious bias.

Sam Peters is a Library Manager covering the libraries within the Avon and forest areas of the New Forest. Sam was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and me: On my Shelves with Vicky Duffell

Parenting poetry, picture books, and memoirs on mental health, Eastleigh Library Team Manager Vicky Duffell tells us about her favourite reads.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I like to read on the train, it gives you a nice time out from the world. I’m often on the train with my son though so we read a lot of picture books. Sometimes when I’ve been reading aloud to him, the story has brought over other children on the train who were listening, and they want to look at the pictures too! I have dyspraxia so I don’t drive and there’s a lot of waiting for public transport. I always have a book with me in case there are delays, reading is a great way to reclaim that time.

Whenever I go on holiday, I always like to read a book that’s set in the place I’m visiting. I read Elena Ferrante’s novels while on my honeymoon in Italy, the books have a really strong sense of place so they were perfect. I also read Tales of the City when I visited San Francisco, it was really interesting to see the city through the eyes of someone coming to the city for the first time just when I was doing the same.

How do you read?

I prefer traditional print books; I do have an e-reader, but I like the physicality of a book. You don’t get that new book smell with an e-reader. That’s a great thing about working at the library, we get to check through all the crisp new books that come in.

I usually only read one book for myself at a time, but I read to my son every night. We went through a phase of constantly reading Zog and the Flying Doctors because it’s one of his favourites, though I vary it as much as I can because it gets a little boring. Reading for my own pleasure is quite sporadic, I would love to sit down and finish a book in one sitting but that’s quite a luxury when you’re a parent. I try to find books with shorter chapters that don’t require long periods of reading to really get into, poetry’s great for that too.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish, it’s a book of poetry about the small things you never thought about until you become a parent. I don’t often read poetry but it’s a brilliant way to look at something we don’t often talk about. For example, one of the poems is about having to hide in the toilets while you’re breastfeeding, and I think the condensed language makes it really impactful. It’s a book I would recommend to everyone, even if you don’t have children or never want children, it offers a very real and honest insight into the ups and downs of parenthood.

Reading Patterns – Do you follow any specific authors or genre?

I do follow some authors, but I mainly like to read based on subject matter and I really like books that look at mental health. When I had my son I suffered from post-partum psychosis, a rare illness that only affects about 1 in 1,000 mums. One of my favourites is Inferno by Catherine Cho which is amazingly written. It’s interesting to read about someone who went through an experience that you’ve had. Being able to compare how it was similar and different to my experience, I felt very connected to the book.

I also recently read David Harewood’s book Maybe I Don’t Belong Here. I saw his documentary Psychosis and Me on the BBC about his experience of psychosis in his 20s. I’d never really seen anyone talk about psychosis on TV before, so I was really looking forward to reading his biography. He talks about how race and gender can come into your experience with mental health

First loves, best loves

I remember reading a lot of Roald Dahl when I was younger, but it wasn’t really until I was a teenager that I properly got into reading. I remember at the turn of the millennium we had the Everyman’s Library collection in my school, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to read so I just worked my way through all of those. They were lovely hardbacks with quite plain covers, and I think I liked that I was going into the books without any expectations.

I read so many picture books that I’ve really grown to love them. Nadia Shireen’s books are some of the best ones and I particularly loved The Bumblebear. It’s about a bear who dresses up as a bee to sneak into the bees’ school. It’s just such an adorable book and the illustrations are lovely too. Sometimes I think I enjoy the picture book more than my son does and I think some of them are written to be enjoyed by the parents as much as the children.

One of my favourite authors is Elif Shafak, she wrote The Forty Rules of Love which I really enjoyed but her memoir Black Milk is about her experience of post-partum depression and about how she struggled with writing after having a child.

Vicky manages the team at Eastleigh Library, which is located at the top of the Swan Centre. Vicky was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and me: Carly Harrod

Carly Harrod from Hampshire Countryside Service tells us about the books that inspired a career with nature and why adults should read more children’s books.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I like to find a nice sunny spot in the garden to sit and read my book, so I tend to read more in the summertime. Usually as soon as I finish work, I like to get out in the garden to read something. I have a wood fire in my living room so it can be nice to curl up in the evening and read a bit of a book there too.

How do you read?

I went through a stage of reading on my kindle until I filled my kindle up, but I actually really like the feel and smell of a real book, so I tend to read more physically.  If I’m really into a book I can’t stop reading it. I need to read it until it’s finished. So that might mean I read constantly for two days if I have time, but that can be hard when you have a seven-year-old running around. I find if I leave a book for too long, I get a bit lost and I might move onto something else and forget about it, so I like to read in one hit.

I like an easy read that I can just get completely lost in. There are some books that I just cannot get into though, and I’ll just stop and move onto another book if I’m not enjoying it. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien is one that I keep trying but I just can’t get through. I love Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit,but I get about 5 pages into The Silmarillion and just can’t go further. But I will never get rid of a book, I will always keep it in case I want to come back to it another time because it might not be that I will never like that book, it might just be the way I’m feeling on that day or that I’m just not into that genre at the moment.

Books are quite precious to me, I would never fold a page over or leave a book open and face down to save a page either. I have a few books that are really special and they sit in their dust jackets on my shelf to keep them safe.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series which I re-read all the time, especially in the summer. They’re just nice books to return to because I can get through one of them in a couple of days and I love to just get lost in that magical world.

Reading patterns

Fantasy is a big love of mine and I really enjoy authors like Tolkien and Pratchett, but I also love a bit of Scandi-noir. They’re crime novels that tend to follow the police trying to solve a puzzling case and I love the twists and turns, but they can be a bit darker. I think because they’re set in cities covered with snow, the crimes feel so far removed from here and I find them easier to read about. Samuel Bjork’s novels are some of my favourites but those are as dark as I can go with reading now. I used to be really into horror writing, I loved Stephen King and James Herbert, but I can’t read them at all these days. I used to love the Point Horror book series when I was growing up and R.L. Stine was my absolute favourite Point Horror writer but I think as I get older I prefer reading books that leave me with a nice feeling at the end.

First love, best loves

I have older siblings and a lot of what I read came from them. They had this lovely bookcase filled with some really old-fashioned books, like Swallows and Amazons and Enid Blyton and other books that can be quite outdated now. But I loved these stories about children going out into the countryside and having adventures. I think that’s probably why I do what I do now. As I got older, I began getting into the Point Horror books, I did enjoy them them but it was what everyone was reading at the time. What really stands out in my memory is when my sister bought me The Hobbit. I absolutely loved it. It’s still one of my favourite books and I go back and re-read it constantly. It was one of the first more adult books that I had ever been given. The writing was so immersive, I really felt like I was going to Middle Earth.

A series of books that I really love is by Monica Dickens, the series starts with The House at World’s End. It’s about this group of siblings who get sent away to live on a farm on their own and end up looking after all the stray animals in the area. They’re just such nice books, there’s nothing horrible in them, just very sweet escapism.

I also spend a lot of time looking through ID guides as part of my job and they can be really interesting. One that I absolutely love is called The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, the pictures in it are all hand drawn. It shows plants and animals all throughout the seasons and it’s just beautiful. Another brilliant one is Janet Marsh’s Nature Diary which is all about the Itchen Valley and the nature you can find throughout it. They’re both brilliant because even though they’re really old, it’s still plants and animals that we recognise. For anyone who wants to get out and become more involved with nature I would really recommend Francis Rose’s book on wildflowers, it’s a brilliant book to get started identifying flowers and I would really recommend Joseph Cornell’s book of activities for something to do as a family too.

But my all-time favourite book is A Fly Went By from Dr Suess. It’s just a long poem. I still have the copy that was read to me as a child and I still read it to my kids. Our oldest kids have children of their own now and we bought the book for them to read to their children as well.

Overlooked delights

I think adults should read more children’s books. They’re just simple pleasures with nothing bad happening. I like the positivity in life, and I think children’s books show us that. One I really enjoyed recently was Oi Frog! There are some fantastic kids’ books out there that can teach you stuff as well as teaching your kids stuff and I think we forget that. It reminds us of when things were easier, and I think we all need that sometimes.

Carly Harrod is a Project Manager for the Countryside Service, as part of her role she looks after the Countryside Service social media account and supports the volunteers who work throughout Hampshire. She regularly speaks on the Looking After Nature podcast. Carly was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and Me: On my shelves with Jayne Mushore

Jayne Mushore, Project Support Officer at Hampshire Libraries, speaks with us about empowering reads, childhood joys and the complexities of international identities.

Click on any of the book images to reserve that title.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I used to commute between Middlesbrough and London so a lot of my reading happened on the train, but I love listening to audiobooks in the car too – you can just put something on and drive, it’s a great way to pass the time. But for me, the best place to read is on holiday. Looking out across the sea without a care in the world, just getting completely lost in the book. I’m not rushing to get here or there I’m not rushing to do anything. There’s just that chilled vibe, knowing I don’t have to put the book down until I’m quite ready. I can just get lost in the pages.

How do you read?

I always read a fiction and non-fiction book at the same time. Sometimes the non-fiction becomes too much and I’ll need something more exciting and that’s when I’ll switch to the fiction book. With fiction, you have to conjure those images in your mind to picture how the scene would look and so I can’t read two fiction books at the same time. In an ideal world, I would love to start a book and finish it in one sit-in, but with work and home life, I really have to make time. So I take any chance I get to just sit down and read.

I love audiobooks and I use BorrowBox a lot. I would say my reading is about 50/50 between audiobooks and physical books. When someone is reading the book aloud to you, they will put the emphasis on parts that wouldn’t necessarily stand out to you. But when you read something yourself, you can pause on the parts that resonate with you personally. So while I love audiobooks I do really like to read a book myself when I can.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Slay In Your Lane by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene. It’s a non-fiction book of black British women telling the story of their experience stepping on the career ladder. It talks about the challenges that they faced and how they navigate the working world. For example, one of the women talks about how they created a lingerie line for women of colour, producing tights that work for different skin tones. If it isn’t something you think about it can seem small, and if you don’t have the option, it may not be something you think you need. But actually, being able to wear something that works with your body is great and it’s really important for somebody to have that option.

“The quest for good is a marathon and not a sprint; it is measured over years, not fleeting moments; over failures and missteps and, of course, successes.” – Slay In Your Lane

The other book I’m reading is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s quite out there and the cover really caught my eye. It’s about a girl who is communicating with spirits but is cursed by her community as her conception was from rape. It’s set in Africa and over the last year a lot of the novels I’ve been reading are Africa-based. I love reading about Africa in fiction, it’s always brought to life so differently each time, particularly in Who Fears Death. It’s quite different from any book I’ve read.

Reading patterns

I don’t really follow a genre or author in particular, I usually pick my books by going onto the library’s online catalogue to see what’s new and what catches my attention. Book covers really do grab me, they make me curious and tempt me to find out more. That may sound like a weird way to pick what you read but I always find something interesting by just having a browse. My friends and I always make recommendations to each other when we’ve read a really good book too. Slay In Your Lane was one that was a recommendation, I think it stood out because it’s such an empowering read for young black women.

I tend to read with my mood so if everything is going well, I will read quite uplifting books but if I’m going through something they’ll take a darker turn. Last year with the pandemic I was in the headspace of questioning a lot of things in my life and I couldn’t really be in “the now”. My friend recommended The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it really kept me going through lockdown.

First love, best loves

I’m from Zimbabwe so most of what I remember reading at a young age was in my native language. When I started learning English, I remember I used to read a lot of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series. Fantastic Mr Fox is the book that really stands out from my childhood. A talking fox sneaking around being mischievous was hilarious to me. The world in the story was so different from our way of life in Africa I found it so intriguing. When I was a bit older one of my school friends had the Harry Potter books, I remember we read a few chapters of the prisoner of Azkaban and started asking ourselves “should we be doing this?”. With my African background and the Christian culture I grew up in, reading about witches wasn’t really acceptable. It shows how different attitudes can be as well because that was quite a big thing and we felt so wrong we didn’t end up finishing it!
The Devil Wears Prada was one of my favourites too, I remember being really excited to get a hold of the second book when it came out. The Hunger Games series was another big favourite of mine as well, but I remember reading a lot of John Grisham novels too. He was a lawyer before he became a writer, and The Firm is one I really remember enjoying.

The series of books I used to really love was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – I used to read the books over and over again, I think I know them by heart! Reading about this strong African woman who’s doing exciting things was really thrilling. They hold real sentimental value to me, I remember thinking “I want to be that woman who’s out there getting stuff done!”

A book I really connected with recently was We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Bulawayo is from Zimbabwe too and reading the book brought back so many memories. In the book, she writes about being playing ‘countries’ outside as children like I used to growing up. I can really understand the perspective she writes from. The main character, Darling, witnesses the violence happening in Zimbabwe as she’s growing up and doesn’t really understand what’s going on and then she moves to America. Something that made me quite emotional when I was reading the book is when she’s in America and calls a friend back home. The friend says that Darling can’t say ‘our country’ when talking about Zimbabwe because she decided to leave. I can relate to that because the friends and all the things you used to hold dear that built your friendship are no longer there. You don’t belong in Zimbabwe anymore, but you don’t feel as if you belong in this new world yet either. You’re in limbo. You’re very grateful for the opportunities you’ve found in this new world but trying to fit in parts of your old life with it is really hard. Then when you try to connect with the people back at home to say, “I’m one of you still”, they reject you and so you don’t know where you stand. It was very bittersweet to read about that through the story of Darling in We Need New Names. Everyone I know who has read the book and has migrated has agreed that this book perfectly tells the story of how it feels.

Overlooked Delights

Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter was extremely endearing and touching to me. I think the message of teaching a girl-child to be independent and themselves. That message of keeping going and finding your strength really resonated with my upbringing and some of what I witnessed as part of my cultural background. Reading a book like this, where somebody is really holding out their heart and saying, “things happen and life is hard but you do need to keep moving because there is light at the end of the tunnel”, is just so powerful to me.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Letter to My Daughter

Jayne Mushore is the Project Support Officer for the digital initiatives of Hampshire Libraries, working to deliver services such as the publicly accessible computers and the procurement of audiobooks. Jayne was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Books and me: on my shelves

John Coughlan CBE, who retired as Hampshire County Council’s Chief Executive last month, talks about his reading loves and recommendations as well as his vision for Hampshire’s libraries.

This blog post is taken from a longer conversation with Emma Noyce, head of Hampshire Libraries, which is available here.

Reading habits

I’m an English graduate, so I’m a reader by background. I love literacy, I love literature and I love books: I’ve kept reading since my university days. But I have to admit, particularly in the last three or four years, I’ve found it harder and harder so I’m very much looking forward to getting some time to read now as I retire.

Political instincts

Middle England by Jonathan Coe was a holiday read last year. It’s fantastic, highly comic, but also a state-of-the-nation novel. Jonathan Coe is a Brummie contemporary of mine, he went to St Philip’s School in Birmingham and I went to a Catholic grammar school not far away. When I first read The Rotters Club, which is about a group of the kids at St Philip’s school, I could recognise the streets, I could recognise the jobs the parents are doing, and recognise the pubs that they go to. I can hear his accent: posh Brummie a bit like mine, like sanded down Brummie. Since then, I’ve always liked returning to Jonathan Coe.

I’m not a political reader, per se. For me, the best literature is laced in metaphor, where you can read things into it. Charles Dickens is highly politicised, but in very well disguised ways. I love Dickens: I love his humour. I know it’s laced with sentimentality but that’s because he was a jobbing writer: he managed to put all his politics into material that was being read avidly on a monthly basis by a population who would queue at paper stands to buy his chapters. For me, Dickens just stands apart: a remarkable writer and person. I’d pick Bleak House as a particular favourite with its two major themes of child poverty and a legal system gone mad, and also Our Mutual Friend, partly because there’s a character who’s in the waste business: my dad was a dustman, so I always related to that.

Another favourite of mine is John le Carré. I first read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy when I was doing a serious and difficult staff investigation. It was one of those professional turning points, which we all have, when you decide where your career is going and what side you are on. The thing about Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and most of le Carré, is that while they’re obviously really well-crafted spy stories, they’re also profound social commentaries. Tinker Tailor is a commentary on post-war, post-empire England. But for me, it’s also a tremendous management text because it makes you think deeply about how organisations take decisions and how you challenge those decisions if they happen to be wrong. It also talks deeply about issues of loyalty and betrayal, and the causes of betrayal and the nature of betrayal. It’s astonishing. I go back to it every year or two.

A non-fiction book, Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, is one of those books that was a ‘moment-changing’ read of my life. It’s astonishingly difficult to read – it’s a history of rape – but brilliantly put together and unarguable.  I think boys should be made to read it.

Irish roots, Irish stories

It is ridiculous how many astonishing authors have come from recent and modern Ireland. I’m one of the few people I know that have read Ulysses  properly: but I did it because it was on my curriculum. It’s an extraordinary read and one I’d like to return to in retirement.

My parents came to England when they were teenagers. They ran away to get work at the time when there was a depression in Ireland. For them, the word ‘home’ referred to somewhere else. So one of one my choices would be Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. It was made into a wonderful film but the book, as ever, is even better than the film.

Prose writing among this group of Irish writers is subtle, gentle and pointed: you suddenly realise you’ve been hit hard without knowing it simply by a passage describing a scene, or a journey, or a conversation. Tóibín, for me, is probably one of the masters of that. The narrative of Brooklyn is very simple but hugely meaningful. It’s the story of a young woman who goes to live in America, a classic part of the Irish diaspora. And I relate to it because the woman is a bit like my mum. She went in different circumstances and for different reason but there’s that same sense of losing your family to go abroad and how the traditional parts of Irish culture butt against modern culture. It’s just beautifully, beautifully written.

William Trevor is another Irish writer, a Cork man, where my mum was from. He was a prolific author with a fantastic prose style, who tended to write about England and Englishness as an observer in his earlier novels but then went back into themes of how Ireland was changing as independence came in his later work. He deals with the harsh underbelly of people and places and it can be quite disturbing when he gets to work with his scalpel. Love and Summer is poignant and at times, challenging; it’s a love story and very different from some of his earlier work. One of the reasons I love it is because it’s a thriller: it becomes a page turner from having been this very elegiac, gentle narrative about rural Ireland.

BookTrust and children’s literacy

I’m Chair of Trustees for an organisation called BookTrust, which is a children’s reading charity which works nationally as a universal book gifting service, working with Hampshire County Council and with every other local authority, providing free books to different age groups of children.

As my children’s book choice, I’m picking Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas because it was one of those books that my children kept asking us to read again and again. I don’t know how many times we read it. It’s a great story about a witch who abuses a cat by changing its colour too often, but I won’t spoil the ending for you. It’s an absolute page turner.

The future of libraries

I think libraries are wonderful and I think they are huge assets to communities and to places. But in a modern society, libraries have to modernise too. I believe deeply in the physical book: whether a picture book or a written book, they’re remarkable things, tactile objects. Having a community resource of books where people know they can go is hugely important.

If we want to have libraries as vibrant, real places that people can trust, then we’ve got to make them relevant, we’ve got to make them used, and we’ve got to make sure that they can keep pace with their own viability. If the library service is serious about itself, it must continue to modernise. Protecting our libraries as buildings in corners of streets is not protecting our libraries as viable, important community resources that are going to be meaningful. We have to keep looking at what the future is going to hold, because otherwise you won’t create libraries, you’ll create unused museums of books. And that’s not what they should be for. They should be vibrant places that people use and go to.

Written up by Kate Price-McCarthy

Books and me: on my shelves

Events officer at Hampshire Libraries, Jeremy Cole, talks about sci-fi, the human condition, and challenging our reading habits.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

My perfect reading spot would probably be in a park on a sunny day, but it really depends on the context of what I’m reading. When I’m reading a fiction book with lots of world-building, I like to be fully absorbed in it so I read at home where I can immerse myself in that world. I love to listent to non-fiction audiobooks too, particularly on the train. However, I have done a nine-hour train journey to Cornwall and − even though I loved the book I was listening to − I got to a point where I was absolutely saturated with listening. I had to switch to music the rest of the way, which for me is an equally good way to pass the time.

But if I’m in the throes of a new book, I really will read wherever I can. Especially if there’s a strong narrator in the story, I want to stay with the characters and keep the world fresh in my mind.

How do you read?

I listen to a lot of non-fiction audiobooks on BorrowBox, but when it comes to fiction the narrator can be a huge deal breaker for me. It needs to be the right reader. Comedy books are perfect for that. I loved listening to Alan Partridge read his own autobiographies, particularly We Need to Talk About Alan and Nomad. The problem with this is you end up laughing to yourself in public.

In terms of speed, I have to admit that I have been a plodder in more recent years. I’m a completionist, so I’ll keep going even if I’m not hugely loving it. A few books have taken me a really long time to read because of that. With non-fiction though, I’ll dip in and out because the chapters can often read fine in isolation.

What are you reading at the moment?

Recently I’ve started reading a book series some people might have heard of. It’s about a boy called Harry Potter. I remember first becoming aware of it when I was studying my A-levels. My English teacher tried to get it added to the syllabus, but she said she was laughed out of the office.

I resisted getting involved until quite recently. When I was at university, I remember seeing people going to the cinema dressed up with their wands, I was thinking “this is nonsense I don’t want any part of this”. But I was won over by the movies and the magical universe it depicted. I wanted to know more about the characters and universe in depth, I love world-building in books.

With non-fiction, I’ve recently been reading Jon Ronson. I’m reading Them at the moment, but I started with The Psychopath Test. After watching a true crime series on TV, I had this sort of naïve curiosity about what people were capable of. Jon Ronson has this brilliant ability to weave a narrative out of his experiences. He almost makes himself the main character as he meets people with vastly different outlooks on the world.

Reading Patterns

Sci-fi has always been a big part of my reading. The characters are bumbling, ordinary, and relatable. They often just want to clock off work early, but they’re thrown into these extraordinary situations. I think reading about a fantasy world through characters like that can be a brilliant way to learn about the difficult issues in our own world.

The library is an amazing place to work though, you don’t need to go looking for recommendations when they’re all around you. Books will just pass between your hands and something interesting will catch your eye. It’s a great way to discover something to read naturally.

First love, best loves

Probably much younger than I should have been, I started watching Red Dwarf which led me to the novelisations. They were surprisingly good with fleshed out characters and as a thirteen-year-old they made for great reads. From there I fell into Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I had this chunky collection of all the novels in one book which I read over and over. I loved that dead-pan humour about the human condition, that idea of being a part of something huge that you don’t really understand.

At uni, I had a friend who was a big movie buff and we had this sort of cultural exchange. Music was my huge burning passion, and he grew up with movies as his. I had mainly watched comedies up until then, but he insisted I watch Blade Runner. I ended up reading the book it was based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick since.  I loved the film and I think it was brilliant in that it took a small slice of the book and just let you sit in that. But the book had all these other elements in it about the character’s personal life and addiction to mood-determining technology.

Another big part of my reading has been music biographies. As an amateur musician who has played in a few bands, I love to read about the background of the people in bands and the stories that shaped their songs. The reality that those three famous songs from The Smiths were all written by a 22-year-old in one afternoon was incredible to read about. Songs That Saved Your Life and Revolution in the Head are more about the personalities and the culture that gave birth to the songs. I’ve recorded and written music, but I don’t know music theory really. I admire music theorists, but it isn’t the way I look at music. I like to think I’m a logical person but with music, I love that it can be instinctive.

Overlooked delights

Recently I’ve been thinking about books that maybe I have overlooked. I would describe myself as a feminist but looking back I can see that a lot of my favourite authors were men, and that many of the characters were men as well. I think reading is about exploring the human experience and it would be a shame to keep that so close to home. I’ve started with The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin but I really want to challenge myself to read wider.

As Events Officer at Hampshire Library Service, Jeremy develops exciting programmes of events for the public. Jeremy was talking with Isaac Fravashi.