Discovering Life in a Library

National Library Day 9th February

Kenton Library was built in the 1930s; a geometric modern building with a flat roof, a rectangular tower, brown bricks and glass windows. As a child I remember the look and smell of the African Marigolds that marched around the beds outside.

 Inside was a circular issue desk that I worked my way around as I grew taller. Eventually I could peer over the top so that I was able to pass my books and my green library card to the librarian. They were stamped so fast it was as though I was watching the Grand National.

After shopping on a Saturday morning we would always visit the library. My parents would leave me in the children’s section while they went into the adult area to pick books on DIY, gardening and needlework. Large hardback editions of The Hungry Caterpillar, Paddington, Miffy, Mrs Pepperpot and the Wombles sat in big wooden boxes in the middle of the room. It was my own treasure trove;  I liked it best when we were so early that I was the only one there.

Around the outside were the older children’s fiction books which I read as I got older. My favourites were: Noel Streatfield, Erich Kästner, Roald Dahl and any author that wrote stories about orphans. My heroines were Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

When I’d exhausted the children’s library I was moved on to the teenager’s section, too early I’m sure. My parents never censored my reading, or told me I couldn’t have a book out due to its content! So I read the Nancy Drew series, a romance collection on young nurses and their relationships with rather dubious doctors, and the best in the section, Judy Blume. It was from her that I found out about periods, crushes and divorce. There were only about seven shelves,  I’m pretty sure I got through them in a year. Then it was the adult section. An A-Z  of authors all the way around a huge room, which had big green and orange armchairs that I could sink into with a lap full of books.

Along my book journey I discovered real gems; D.H.Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and E.M Forster. My Mum would occasionally pass me a book that she thought I might like. She introduced me to Jilly Cooper; I read all about the lives of Bella, Emily, Octavia and Prudence. Then there was Danielle Steel, Colleen McCullough, The Bronte sisters and Jane Austen! I drank down romance as if it was just around the corner. Somehow amongst it all I was passed Praxis by Fay Weldon, it had the same sort of cover as the Daniele Steele stories, a photo of a scantily clothed woman at a dressing table, her blonde her up in a bun. Despite the cover this was a whole different perspective on women.  I fell upon Ruby Fruit Jungle too; Molly, a feisty American lesbian in the 60s. Looking back I’m not sure I fully understood lesbianism or feminism!

I would read almost anything – not like now. Books about wolves, mystical creatures, Vikings, houses where children were locked up in attics and men that would voluntarily say they were mad!

The great thing was that every week I got to take a small part of the library home with me.  I’d walk along Streatfield Road as fast as I could, deciding what to read first.  I would often spend the rest of the weekend working my way through the books; in the winter curled up on the sofa in front of the electric fire, and in the summer stretched out on Dad’s stripy deckchair, with the books in a pile on the grass. I sucked on pear drops as I turned the pages and devoured the words.

Thank you to Joshua Abbott for allowing me to use an image of Kenton Library from the website Modernism in Metroland.

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