Normally, in my now-traditional Christmas blog post, I reflect on Christmas borrowing in one or more of our libraries. This year, inspired by Linda Cracknell’s Creative Writing workshop back in August, I’ve decided to try to imagine the same story from the point of view of the books. I don’t think I’ll be giving up the day job, but for now I beg your indulgence, kind readers, for my little scene.
A Library. Christmas, 1822.
It was the night before Christmas. The Keeper of Books had gone home to his family, and one of the books in the Library’s collection, a nicely-bound duodecimo copy of Walter Scott’s novel The Pirate, was feeling lonely. The Pirate was so used to being borrowed and read – handed on from person to person in a family, pages pored over as the story was devoured by parents and young people alike, and giving pleasure to them all – that it wasn’t quite sure how it would feel being back on the shelf. Normally it returned only briefly to the Library, and was never re-shelved before being given out again to the next person on the waiting list. It had regularly complained to the other books in the messenger boy’s cart about its popularity, and had been looking forward to a rest, but now that the rest had come, The Pirate wasn’t quite so sure it wanted it. The other books kept telling it that there wouldn’t be a holiday over Christmas – Scotland wasn’t a Catholic country after all – but somehow The Pirate felt that it wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Ever since its brother novel, The Fortunes of Nigel, had arrived, people seemed less interested in The Pirate. It had even suffered the ignominious fate of being cast aside impatiently a couple of times recently, and it had not enjoyed watching its own former borrowers impatiently passing by in quest of another, newer novel.
Shelved next to The Pirate was an elderly novel, called The History of Sir Charles Grandison. Sir Charles had seen almost seventy Christmases go by. He had once belonged to a lively clergyman’s family in Hampshire, and he’d been read by them so many times that his pages were all bent, his spine was saggy, and his once elegant gold-tooled binding was scratched. He had ended up in the Library’s collection in 1801, bought at auction by the Hampshire representative of the Library’s entrepreneurial owner, and he still mourned for his family of origin. “They could quote my every page”, he told The Pirate. “All five-hundred and more of them!”. Sir Charles was sad, since nobody wanted to read him now. “They call me prolix”, he said. “I wish my author, Sam Richardson, had known how to write a shorter, snappier book.”
The other books in the cases nearby were getting fed up. “Stop moaning!” said the Encyclopaedia of Gardening. “At least people like reading you. People only ever take me out when they can’t make their plants grow. There’s literally one page that anyone ever bothers with in me.”
The Manual of Modern Farriery agreed. “Yes, our lives are really boring, but you never hear us complaining.”
“How about a bit of Christmas spirit?” said a small Bible. “After all, things could be a lot worse. There are no silverfish or bookworms to bother us here, and we’re warm and well cared for.”
The books suddenly stopped talking. Close by, they could hear the jingle of sleigh bells. It couldn’t be a borrower, braving the snow, since the library was closed. It wouldn’t be the Keeper of Books coming back – he didn’t own a sleigh. The books were baffled. Who on earth could it be?
Wishing all readers of this blog a very Merry Christmas 2022, and the happiest of New Years in 2023.