Sunday, November 23, 2008

The dedication

Ok, so Lady G is dedicated to the Coventry City Library Service.

A bit odd?

I work in an educational system that regards literature as an unexploded bomb. I’m supposed to teach students how to recognise and defuse the text’s invidious and insidious ideology. Always the text, never the poem, or the play, or the novel

Reading as a kind of safe sex. In which nothing is risked and nothing created. Self defeating and pointless. Less than sex. At best a Rubik’s cube or cross word puzzle, a time filler. At worst, something to be avoided at all costs unless sanitized.

Don’t read writers that don’t agree with you.

Why we take readers and teach them to resist what they are reluctant to read in the first place is beyond me. It’s not just that I know the theory behind the methodology is flawed, it’s far more personal. I owe too much to books and libraries.

When I was very young, my father took me to the Central Library in Coventry. Having left school at twelve, he was determined we would read and write, swim dance and make music.

I still think four out of five wasn’t bad.

The Central Library in Coventry was a special place, right in the heart of the city. It was by the cathedrals and one bright day we were early enough to stop off on the way to look at the sunlight coming though the glass in the new cathedral.

The library itself was in an old building. The poetry was kept on an upper balcony you reached by climbing a spiral stone staircase. At the far end of the veranda, in an alcove, they kept the poetry books. There was room for one chair.

Browsing the library’s small collection I had myself a fine if erratic education. There were school book poets, and poets my parents knew, and the poets I discovered for myself. I can still remember reading Lawrence’s Pansies and thinking I had stumbled over something illegal.

Downstairs, in the fiction and history sections, there were worlds I could enter that were immeasurable distances from the one I lived in. Ways of thinking that I would never have encountered in my own life.

The record library was a later but an equal revelation. Alain Stival, the Bothy Band, Planxty, coming out of the speakers. Music I could have heard nowhere else because no one I knew, knew anything about them. Or if they did disparaged it as diddly dee music.

No one said; you’re the son of a migrant factory worker! These books and ideas can’t be yours. Literature is an elitist activity carrying the ideology of the ruling patriarchy. And thank God no one said, beware, you will encounter events, ideas, attitudes that will make you feel uncomfortable, make you think, may challenge your own assumptions.

So a thank you to the city libraries. For the education I got in them and the dreams they started.

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