Friday, 20 July 2012

Librarian's choice

One of the (many) good things about libraries is the serendipity they can bring to your reading, often as a result of scanning the shelves of recently returned or recommended books. I was thinking about this recently when we were on holiday with a group of friends. Everyone had brought books to read, and we would talk about what we were reading and pass the books around. There was also a big selection of books available on an e-reader - but somehow that's not the same as being able to look at the cover, read the blurb and handle the book itself to get an idea of whether you'd like to read it.

At Central Library in Wellington, there's always a display of books in the Fiction section under Librarian's choice and Reader's choice. (Actually, I'm not totally sure where the apostrophe goes: one librarian and one reader, or more than one? I'll have to check it out next time.) I'd always assumed that some care went into selecting the books to go on here, but last weekend I was standing by the display shelves when a librarian came along and starting slinging books on, some at one end and some at the other, with no apparent pattern. Of course, perhaps there was a hidden pattern that I couldn't see, but from now on I will have to assume that the Librarian's and Reader's choice are often overlapping.

One of the books I picked off the shelves was Evelyn Waugh's Scoop.

Evelyn Waugh is always worth re-reading, although I'd forgotten how casually he uses terms to describe black people that would nowadays be seen as deeply offensive. It means that there's often an uncomfortable edge to the humour (being Evelyn Waugh, he probably wouldn't care) apart from the scenes set in England, especially in the environs of Boot Magna, where the worst crisis imaginable is the accidental substitution of "the crested grebe" for "the badger" in a newspaper's nature column, leading to wonderfully funny lines like these ones :

'He might bluff it out. Lord Copper was a townsman, a provincial townsman at that, and certainly did not know the difference between  a badger and a great crested grebe... "Lord Copper," he was saying [in his imagination] , "no man shall call me a liar unchastised. The great crested grebe does hibernate."'

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