Choice from the book shelf is really off the wall

LIBRARIANS HAVE a famously stand-offish relationship with the literature they guard.

They may not like it very much - even when they write the stuff. The University of Hull's long-serving head librarian, Philip Larkin, inserted the immortal line "Books are a load of crap" into one of his poems.

While second-in-command of the British Museum Reading Room, the novelist Angus Wilson distracted his customers with a stream of very audible chatter. He soon realised that "an avid taste for the contents of books was a hindrance" in his chosen profession.

As for people who do want to check out a volume or two, the librarian in Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms summed up one popular view down in the stacks when he said that the best way to respect books "was to leave them on the shelves where Nature intended them to be".

So it's not, perhaps, a huge surprise that Britain's chief librarians should have made such an eccentric choice of favourite titles at their conference in Torquay.

Some of them, no doubt, do know every dusty corner of their stock inside out, which explains the presence on the list of such curiosities as Eugene Burdock's The Ninth Wave and Douglas Hayes's The Comedy Man.

Others seem happy to tot up the lending figures and go with the populist flow: hence Maeve Binchy and the ubiquitous Captain Corelli. And at least one leading librarian believes that the enraptured study of the classics can lead directly to orgies, mayhem and murder (the plot of Donna Tartt's The Secret History). Worst fear, or fondest hope?

These days, of course, the professionals tends to spout techno-babble like the good business-friendly IT managers the Government would like them to be. So the librarian who chose William Gibson's cyber-prophecy of doom, Neuromancer, may be sending a veiled warning to someone.

As for the unreconstructed rebel who opted for the Communist Manifesto, his or her message is a bit simpler to decode. Ditto the fan of Huxley's Brave New World.

The supporters of Middlemarch or Bleak House, The Satanic Verses or Bonfire of the Vanities, are keeping the grand old flame of Big Books crammed with Big Ideas alight - but it's equally heartening to see exquisite miniatures such as J L Carr's A Month in the Country and Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills in the frame. Yet the aptest choice of all must be Bernhard Schlink's luminous account of the way that books can redeem a deeply damaged life: The Reader.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital