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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea