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Barely a fortnight after Liverpool’s tenure as Capital of Culture came to an end, a council in Merseyside has announced the closure of ten of Wirral’s twenty four libraries along with a number of leisure centres. The plan had initially been to close thirteen, but after a surge of public protest that saw nearly 400 people attend the strategic asset review hearing in Wallasey Town Hall, Upton, Pensby and Birkenhead Central Libraries have been saved. I grew up there, and although my local library wasn’t one of the many affected, this is a hugely personal issue for me. I spent the best part of a day last week contacting everyone I know who still lives there, trying to convince them to go on one of the many protests that took place. Sadly, they made little difference.

The Wirral is seen as being predominantly middle-class, and whilst this is true of many parts of the peninsula, it isn’t true of all of them. One woman told a BBC reporter, “We’re in a poor area. We’ve only got two things. One is the baths and one is the library and both of them are being taken away. I don’t think that’s fair.”

In a recession, we need more libraries not fewer. Not all schools possess well-stocked libraries, although they should. Not every child and adult has access to the wealth of information stored on the internet, although they should. For many, community libraries are the only places people can go, not just for books but to use the internet, look for jobs and get information about local groups and facilities, they posses photocopying and fax facilities. They offer services for the visually impaired and they loan out DVDs and CDs for a fraction of the price of your average Blockbuster. In this economic climate, why are councils reducing the facilities for affordable entertainment?

To say that they should be closed is tantamount to saying that it doesn’t matter that there are people who can’t afford to purchase books from Waterstones or Amazon, it doesn’t matter that a community has no free access to newspapers or reference books or the internet. But it does matter. Free access to books, no matter what your age or background, is one of the fundamental principles of a civilised, educated society,

Libraries shouldn’t be one of our most neglected resources, they should be among our most cherished.

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If this was true, I’d be the nicest person in the world. But as I’m not, I can only presume that it isn’t.

I’ve got an article about Rachel Maddow up here. They give bonuses for getting 1000 page views, so you should pimp it like crazy bitches. Also, I think it’s a pretty good article and I’m proud of it. And Rachel Maddow rocks. You should also leave lots of comments telling me how awesome I am.

 

….then maybe I’ll finally get around to updating this thing again. I suck as a blogger.

The last leg of the Christmas rush is well and truly upon us, and with the credit crunch looming, everyone is on the hunt for a bargain. At any time of year, high street booksellers are crammed with signs offering two for one offers, Amazon emails its customers with the promise of discounts, and supermarkets routinely offer cut-price bestsellers next to the stationary and birthday cards. Christmas, especially this Christmas, is even better. Or worse, if you’re an independent bookshop already struggling to survive. They can’t afford to lower their prices to meet or beat those of their competitors, they can’t give you a free Toblerone with every purchase – the most you’re likely to get is a free bookmark advertising a book you’ll probably never buy and wouldn’t read if you did.
So why, when their better-known competitors are chomping at the bit to offer you a half-price copy of Lord of the Rings with a free copy of The Silmarillion thrown in for good measure, should you wander off the beaten track and pay full price?

For one thing, they’re often a lynchpin of the local community, and in an increasingly cyber-driven age, who can afford to turn down the chance of a flesh and blood connection? When LGBT store Gay’s the Word was threatened with closure, countless regulars spoke to the press with stories about how the shop had changed – or in some cases, even saved – their lives. In smaller towns and cities, small bookshops are often the main provider of books about local history, creating a community of writers and readers as well as supporting small presses. If they go, then the community that has been built around them vanishes as well.
And whilst they may not be able to compete on price or boast an in-store Starbucks, even the smallest bookshop can rival the signings advertised in the window of Borders or Waterstones. WordPower, the Edinburgh-based, left-wing leaning bookshop, hosts readings at the Festival every year where new writers and old favourites showcase their work side by side. London’s Crockett and Powell and Bath’s Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights all run popular events improved by the quality of intimacy they offer.
If that’s not enough, it may also make you a better person. Many booksellers say that shoppers at independent bookstores can be more accepting of the retail industry’s flaws – having to wait for an overseas Amazon order, say, or not having a magically replenishable supply of popular books.  At larger stores, “all the usual sense of customer entitlement is magnified, and staff just have to keep on smiling,” one bookseller at a chain bookstore sighs. At small bookshops, you’re already sticking it to the man – you don’t need to abuse retail staff into the bargain.
And the benefit doesn’t just belong to the shopper. “Independent bookstores and presses take more risks and often put out more interesting books than the big houses,” author Catherine Lundoff says. “Without them the reading and writing landscape would be a poorer place.” She’s right – I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve stumbled across hidden treasures, books that I would never have heard of, on the shelves of Murder One or Foyles – or even courtesy of those ubiquitous bookmarks. Independents are willing to go out on a limb to promote new authors, and their instincts are usually right – they were the ones who, for better or for worse, originally made Harry Potter a success.
Many of them, especially in London, are specialist – Murder One, on Charing Cross Road, offers only horror, romance and (of course) crime novels. Covent Garden’s Coffee, Cake and Kink has an impressive array of erotica that you can peruse whilst nibbling on a slice of passion cake. Whilst you can buy thrillers and porn anywhere – including Waterstones – it’s the difference between shopping for vegetables at ASDA and a farmer’s market. The produce may be the same, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps you coming back for more.
Don’t forget, the chains can only negotiate good deals by using their selling power to lower buying prices, so those lower down the food chain have to get by on less and watch, while those above them get richer. And, although the range of books on offer may appear to be more diverse, in larger stores our choice is actually compromised – what’s on the shelves is all too often dictated by head office and won’t vary from store to store, whereas independent shops have the luxury of individual input into the book-buying process. A smaller store can offer a more personalized shopping experience, not just a checklist of Books to Promote, which can be great when you want to grab something to read on the train, but less helpful when it comes to picking a present for Auntie Margot who only likes Restoration drama, socialism and hydrangeas.
The time of new year’s resolutions approaches and if, like me, one of your goals for 2009 is to support more local businesses, you first have to ensure that they’ll still be around. This Christmas, give two gifts for the price of one – buy a loved one the novel they’ve been hinting at for weeks, and help a small business stick around until next year’s Christmas rush. Oh, and don’t forget the free bookmarks.

[contains much squeeing and some Breaking Dawn theories]

Yesterday I commented to a friend that in a way, so little has changed since adolescence – swap school for work and you have the same hierarchies, the rules that occasionally seem arbitrary but you follow anyway, and how much have our friendships really changed? We’re all still trying to navigate the world, with only music and tv and literature to warn and advise us about what’s coming and how we’re supposed to feel about it, there’s still the same parental advice that we still don’t follow. Perhaps this explains my continued love of Y.A lit – my circumstances may have changed, but my way of relating to them hasn’t really. I still identify with Polly O’Keefe, with Nanda Grey and Alanna of Trebond, with countless other heroines who are ten years younger than me but still have my thoughts written in their pages.

All the same, I still feel slightly ashamed for being quite so excited about the release of Breaking Dawn, the fourth and apparently final installment in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I’ve blogged about my issues with Meyer’s writing in the past, but that doesn’t stop me concocting theories(see below) like the fifteen-year-old fangirl that I secretly still am. And of course, I have just discovered that it comes out two days earlier in the US than anywhere else. If I’d known, I’d have pre-ordered it, but it was probably too late. Thanks a lot, universe.

Twilight Ravings of a Madwoman (a.k.a ‘what Kaite thinks will happen in Breaking Dawn’)

Disclaimer: I’m a Bella/Jacob shipper rather than Bella/Edward, but I really think that girl needs to be single for a good long while.

  • To bloodsuck or not to bloodsuck? Bella will oh dear god please change her mind about getting vamped, realise Edward isn’t right for her, and hook up with Jacob only to have him decided that he needs to go and realise his werewolf destiny alone.
  • Mortal peril: Victoria will play a major role, hence the red queen on the cover, and Bella will realise that she could very well end up like that if she carries on with her REALLY REALLY stupid plan of becoming a vampire. I guess she might end up working with the Italian vampire posse in order to bring Bella down for not keeping her part of their arrangement. 
  • Body count: Edward MIGHT die, sacrificing himself for Bella, but if he does then I think Bella will have accepted it beforehand and hopefully not be as much of a mess as she was in <i>New Moon</i>.  Jasper and/or Rosalie will die, possibly Carlisle, as well as Seth Clearwater and one of Jacob’s closer friends.
  • Friends, enemies and others: Angela may play a bigger role – but if she does, I’m not sure I see her surviving – and I can see Mike and Jess stumbling around, getting in the middle of things without having any idea what’s going on. Lauren will possibly (inadvertantly?) lead Victoria to Bella and the Cullens. 
  • Family stuff: Bella’s mother will probably reappear in person instead of the odd email and phone call. I kind of really want her parents to get back together as well.
  • Heading off into the sunset: I’d put money on the novel ending with her going off to some Ivy League college, but I’m not sure she’d leave all the supernatural stuff behind her. Maybe she’ll end up sort of following her in father’s footsteps and becoming either a cop with the inside track on the supernatural, or joining some kind of Torchwood/Angel Investigations-type team, occasionally running into Jacob.
  • Please, Stephenie Meyer: I want an awesome ending for Alice, but who knows? She’s on my ‘might well die’ list as well.

We’ve expanded to an online reading/discussion group-type thing. You should go and join, tell us about what you’re reading and we can all be one big happy family.

Or you could just join because you think I’m awesome. It works either way, really.

Danielle Steele is on her 75th novel, and she writes them all on a 1964 Olympia manual typewriter. Honestly, I don’t know what scares me more….(and to think that I was surprised to find people who still aren’t Mac users).

Radar lists the top ten superheroes who don’t have movies – but probably should.

Stuart Jeffries has reader’s block, and the Director of the National Literacy Trust has a solution.

The New York Times book blog  predicts that the song of the summer  will be ‘Librarian’ by My Morning Jacket.

Paul Gent reviews the Kindle and doesn’t like it.

Catherynne M Valente won the Rhysling Award for her poem The Seven Devils of Southern California. It appears in her newly-published poetry collection A Guide To Folktaleas in Fragile Dialects – a review of the collection and an interview with Valente are forthcoming and will be up once I’ve, y’know, read it.

A disillusioned blogger called Jessica Roy decries the New York literary scene and moves to Paris in protest. NY Mag readers go….’eh?’ in the comments until the unbearable pretension of the Gen Y literati is revealed.

Dustin ‘Screech’ Diamond, of Saved by the Bell fame gets a book deal. Thousands of Gen Y-ers prepare to be traumatised by his debauched showbiz lifestyle.

Galleycat want you to judge a book trailer.

J.K. Rowling tops the Forbes list of billionaires. Countless Y.A and fantasy authors cry themselves to sleep.

Lee Isreal forged letters from Noel Coward (and was mean about Julie Andrews!) but now has a memoir out that is totally the truth, honest.

Covent Garden’s Poetry Society Cafe  (one of my regular haunts) is hosting its monthly Fourth Friday event tonight. Be there, or be…like me, having a picnic in Green Park because the weather is far too nice to be indoors, bookworms.

When did book groups start having waiting lists?! I’m rather hoping the one I emailed has a space open, because they’re reading Patrick Gale’s Notes From an Exhibition and meeting in Alexandra Palace.

*crosses fingers*

Has anyone else had any experiences – good, bad or otherwise – of book groups? Other than the rather fabulous sitcom that I rather fancy re-watching now…

This, as I mentioned in my post the other day, was a re-read. The back cover describes it as “Miss Jean Brodie meets Donna Tartt”, which sums the plot up but doesn’t even come close to describing the delicious prose that Goodman uses to describe Heart Lake and its environs.

Following her divorce, Jane Hudson returns with her young daughter Olivia to the boarding school she attended as a child on scholarship, this time as a Latin teacher. She is following in the footsteps of Domina Helen Chambers, the charismatic Classicist who fascinated Jane and her friends Lucy and Deirdre, both of whom drowned in the lake during Jane’s final year there.

The Lake of Dead Languages is an eerie and accurate account of the hothousing that goes on in private girls’ schools, as well as a reminder that some things never change. Even the closest friendships have fissures that crack open when too much pressure is applied to them, and adolescent obsessions with sex and death are bewitching but ultimately dangerous. Recreational drug taking, witchcraft and Virgil proves to be a potent combination not only in Jane’s flashbacks to her own teenage years, but in the lives of Athena, Vesta and Aphrodite – three of Jane’s students who coincidentally share the same room that Jane, Lucy and Deirdre occupied.

As tragedy strikes Heart Lake and Jane is thrown back on painful memories of friendship, self-discovery and betrayal, it seems clear that the past is repeating itself – and that the story Jane told her teachers and loved ones all those years ago may not have been the whole truth. Pages from the journal she lost after Lucy’s death start reappearing, and it is clear that someone at Heart Lake knows more than she is letting on – but who?

Although Goodman’s plot twists are somewhat predictable (hint: if you have even a basic knowledge of Latin, the final revelation will come as less of a shock and more of a ‘you’re only just figuring that out?’), she manages to keep the tension spiralling until the final, climactic scene on the frozen lake.

Well worth a read.

Following the recent media furore over Gordon Brown’s identification with Heathcliff (the Wuthering Heights version, not the cartoon cat. I think. Did anyone double check?), I ask you:

Which fictional character would you vote for?

Answers, discussion and campaign slogans in the comments please.

(I would like Shirley Keldar as PM, I think. Or Marian Halcombe, but she’s my answer to everything).