Monday, 28 March 2016


How do we measure the benefit of a good local library in the community?

We're now at a point when our libraries need a radical repositioning in the minds of the public. Events organised to celebrate National Libraries Day demonstrate that there ARE pockets of innovation and creativity at some independently minded libraries across the country but how can the success of one annual awareness day drive real change?

Libraries must leverage their role at the heart of the community to fill a huge gap being created by the decline of the traditional high street and cost saving in public services.

So, to that end here is the Word's Shortlist guide to the future for the neighbourhood library.....

1. Extended opening hours, at least on selected days, would open up library services to workers who struggle to leave their desks on tightly squeezed lunch breaks. Opening on Sundays would provide an alternative destination for families and couples during their leisure time. Demand will differ by location but libraries must be open when people want to use them.

2. Our local libraries should offer a programme of regular book clubs, gallery events, music recitals, film screenings and talks that bring like-minded people together. Events need not be managed by library staff but by collaboration with independant bookshops, special interest groups and a network of enthusiastic volunteers.

3. Pubs and cafes have long understood the benefit of providing groups and social clubs with a warm and friendly meeting place. Many libraries have unique and flexible spaces that could be put to similar benefit if they thought of themselves as 'destinations'.

4. Every town has a growing community of home workers and freelancers. Libraries should offer a place for them to meet, share and collaborate in a comfortable and connected environment. Who knows what future partnerships could be forged amongst the book-shelves. Free wifi is a start but communal hot desks would be even better.

5. Our local libraries should be our knowledge hubs offering advice through courses, briefings, oh and yes books. Working closely with local schools and colleges could lead to reciprocal benefits. Some supermarkets even offer after school classes for kids - this should be owned by the neighbourhood library. 

6. Bookstores have long understood the benefits of extending customer dwell time with cafes but libraries have been slower on the uptake. A new generation of librarian baristas wouldn't go amiss. Libraries could become the perfect testing ground for start up coffee brewers and artisan bakers.

7. With good quality newsagents on the decline in the high street Libraries have an opportunity to introduce a well stocked news stand covering specialist and professional print titles not stocked by WH Smith.

8. New start ups, Doddle and the like, are finding a growing market for parcel collection services at train stations. Libraries should work with a commercial partner in this area to help distribute all those Amazon orders (and maybe convert a few to book borrowing at the same time)

9: Many libraries offer much loved read and play sessions for pre-schoolers. This needs to continue but libraries also need to engage young adults. With YA publishing on a high libraries need to work harder at the stage when they currently lose their cool.

10: Finally, libraries need to embrace social media to communicate services and events and to attract new members. Book publishers create huge demand for new titles by developing digital content and working with online bloggers. Libraries are behind the curve.

So how do we measure the benefit of a good local library in the community; number of books borrowed, footfall through the door, demand for top titles, membership numbers? If each town had a happiness rating there can be no doubt that a well stocked and curated library, with friendly, knowledgable and approachable staff, that's open when people want to visit would take any town to the top of the league table.

The Word's Shortlist

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Find your next read this Easter....

"What do you do when you stop?..When you're used to a schedule that takes care of each second of the day?"

K J Orr's stories always leave you wanting more, find out why here

"Now they were not just reviewing his music but editorialising about his existence"

Succinct chapters and moments of deeply personal empathy from master story teller Julian Barnes. Read the review here

"It was almost as if there were two brains, a walnut halved, his and hers"

There has never been a better time to read The Danish Girl. Read the review here


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Tinkers is like a draft of something far more heartfelt but not yet fully realised

Paul Harding's Tinkers popped of the shelf with its prestigious fanfare - 'Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction' and 'Campus Best seller' at Harvard. Needless to say I was pretty excited when I picked up a copy on a recent business trip to Boston. I'm always trying to find something 'authentic' when I'm out and about and it usually works out well for example the paper-back copy of Philip Roth's Indignation I bought at Newark airport and Murakami's Kafka on the Beach found in a bookshop in Shinjuku.

Tinkers is the story an old man, George, who lays on his death bed in New England with his family close by. George is, amongst other things, a repairer of old clocks; a discipline which leaves him reflecting on his life with the methodical precision of an antique timepiece. 

Little actually happens in Tinkers, this is an existential story made up of flash-backs and reminisces of a life lived and one about to be lost. Plot is thin as the narrative is largely made up of short and disjointed memories meant to capture a dying man's final hallucinatory hours. 

George reflects not just on this life but that of his father, Howard,  one of the 'Tinkers' alluded to in the novel. At times the novel is beautiful and reminiscent of other short-form literary fiction such as Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending

"I breathed the book before I saw it; tasted the book before I read it"

But at other times the prose gets tangled in its own metaphor;

"When his grandchildren had been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock. Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart"

There are sections I really enjoyed but others that left me wanting to skim read. Tinkers is a draft of something far more heartfelt but not yet fully realised in this format. The novels setting might play out a pastoral east coast US romance made for the New England psyche but I was left feeling cold and unmoved. The plus side is that its only 176 pages long.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

K J Orr's stories always leave you wanting more

First up an admission, I adore the short story genre. Some of my most memorable reads have been slices of fleeting fiction that cut to the chase succinctly leaving indulgently verbose prose in their wake. In this blog I've reviewed a number of great short story collections from Haruki Murakami to Stuart Evers but K J Orr's tenderly written Light Box is up there with the very best.

Light Box is a collection of 11 short stories about change, about humans in transition in one form or another. The light box itself features in a story about the challenge of an astronaut adjusting to life back on earth at home with his wife.

Each story resonates with relatable yet deeply profound emotions. From the man buying a train ticket to nowhere in order to escape from his wife's illness in The Lake Shore Limited or the recently retired man who checks into a Tokyo hotel to ask the inevitable question "Now what? in The Ice Cream Song is Strange.

"What do you do when you stop?..When you're used to a schedule that takes care of each second of the day?""

K J Orr's stories always leave you wanting more. Many of the tales in this collection could easily be adapted into longer format novels but therein lies their particular appeal - read in one go to fully appreciate the way a short story can completely alter the shape of your day. Orr takes us on a journey far across the globe yet never far from the universal human condition. Quite simply, Orr understands what is means to read brilliantly constructed stories and carefully crafted prose - this is a collections of short stories for readers. 

Light Box is a superb debut novel which Daunt Books must be seriously commended for publishing. I literally cannot wait to read more work from K J Orr.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

#amreading The Noise of Time

Succinct chapters and moments of deeply personal empathy from master storyteller Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time is Julian Barnes's long awaited follow up to his Booker Prize winning novel (and favourite of this blog) The Sense of an Ending. No pressure Mr Barnes! With a work trip to Boston last week I had been saving this book for the journey, after all with a cover this handsome the novel was to be the perfect in flight companion.

The novel is a fictional biography of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and walks a fine line between historical account and lyrical novella. Shostakovich's story is remarkable given the speed at which he could be hauled in from of the KGB to receive a review front Stalin himself but readers should note that this territory is about a far removed from The Sense of an Ending as you could get. Yes there's the succinct chapters and moments of deeply personal empathy but on the whole this is a novel about ideology and Establishment.

"Now they were not just reviewing his music but editorialising about his existence"

On the whole Barnes's beautiful prose carries the novel through the detailed and well researched biographical sections which explore the pressure Shostakovich endured to produce work that met the approval of Stalin's ideology. But at times too much attention, in such a short novel, is given over to this pressure and less to the spirit of the man himself. That said, there are moments when the balance is blend is perfect.

By the way, my bookish highlight of Boston? An afternoon browse through Harvard Bookstore...