Monday, 11th January 2021
When the “welcome back” blog for 4th January was written in mid-December, it was kept deliberately brief and vague because who knew what we would be facing as we entered 2021? Which is just as well as I doubt many of us would have predicted the introduction of Tier 4, the emergence of a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 or glitches in the roll-out of not one but two vaccines, let alone having another nationwide lockdown inflicted upon us as infections rise so dramatically. So once again, our doors have closed to students with hopes of increasing our on site library services dashed.
The British Public and Our Libraries
Once again we are facing a national lockdown and the libraries of Surrey are aiming to help local residents by keeping their doors open for click & collect services and, in some cases, PC usage. We know that e-book and e-magazine usage rose in the months following the March closures but many people still needed the comfort of a ‘proper’ book. And so, most public libraries opened up for the public whenever and wherever they could. Because libraries are more than just about book borrowing – they are at the heart of many communities.
A report has been published by the charity Libraries Connected, looking at how library usage changed due to the initial lockdown, how services had to change, and how library leaders and policy makers will need to work hand-in-hand in future months as budgets tighten in order to ensure there are no gaps for these essential community services.
Rather worrying however was a news report about a council in the West Midlands. Walsall Libraries reopened in July with a reduced service – in line with every other library service in the country – and closed for the second lockdown in November. However, unlike other councils, Walsall decided not to reopen their libraries’ doors even though they were permitted to. The Council have said that this is in direct response to wanting to restrict the spread of the virus and that, although it’s recognised that libraries are more than a book borrowing service, being open does give people and viruses the chance to mingle.
The Council also highlighted that a home book delivery service has been maintained by staff and volunteers – an outreach programme ‘that extends…into our communities beyond the physical building”. Such a programme is commendable and can only be seen as an enhancement to more traditional library services which will hopefully be reinstated in the coming months. As long as they are enhancements and not replacements.
However, perhaps someone should have told Walsall Council leader Mike Bird this before he went on record saying “We are reviewing the situation at the moment but we are not planning to reopen all the libraries at the drop of a hat. We are looking at a phased approach. I’m a firm believer that if we haven’t used something for the past four or five months, do we really need it?”
Nick Poole, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has said “Any review of library services has, by law, to be based on evidence of local need. Mr Bird appears to be saying that there is less need because people have used libraries less, but he fails to acknowledge that this is because they were closed under government regulations”.
And if you haven’t already considered the benefits to your mental health that you can get from reading, may I suggest you do so now. Now more than ever, everyone needs to be able to escape from what is going on in the world. Switch off the TV or radio, step away from social media accounts and pick up a book. Maybe one from that pile of books waiting to be read that you never have time for. Or perhaps a new purchase from one of our independent bookshops desperately trying to keep afloat. Or even from your local library. – simply because you haven’t used it in the last few months, doesn’t mean you don’t need it.
And if you don’t want to make use of a click & collect service offered by your local library, Epsom Library has done this great visual Twitter thread on how to easily make use of e-books if you’re a Surrey resident. Similar services are available throughout the country.
A Bit of Self-Congratulations
And finally, congratulations to LRC team member Alison who received the Brooklands Staff Award for Innovation at the end of term. The LRC went into lockdown in March 2020 with a rather tired website with a promise of an updated one coming in the future. Enforced time at home, and with the help of a few Youtube videos, a new LRC Google site was created and subsequently welcomed at the start of the new academic year, hosted internally for staff and students.
Spotlight on… Agatha Christie
This month sees the 100th anniversary of the publication of the novel, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles by the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie. Published the year before in serial format, the book launched the career of the UK’s most prolific writers. Over the years, Agatha Christie wrote a few romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott but it’s her crime books with which she gained worldwide appeal that is still very much alive today.
Christie’s first novel also introduced the world to Hercule Poirot, the most famous Belgian literary detective ever to grace the pages of a book. Over the course of 55 years, she wrote 33 novels and a plethora of short stories featuring Poirot. She actually found her creation insufferable – by the 1960s she was referring to him as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep” – but refused to kill him off as he was so popular with the public. However, she did finally end his days in the novel “Curtain” in 1975 (Christie herself died the following year) and when this happened, Poirot had an obituary on the front page of the New York Times. Not bad for a fictional detective.
There are some great mysteries solved by Poirot in the books – full list of titles are here – but some of his most famous stories must be The ABC Murders, Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, and Murder on the Orient Express. Part of their popularity is due in no small part to the portrayals of Poirot on the screen. And that popularity is set to continue with the release (postponed until later this year) of a new big screen version of Death on the Nile, with an all-star cast lead by Kenneth Branagh, reprising his role of Poirot previously seen in Murder on the Orient Express.
In 2014, Poirot was resurrected. The novelist Sophie Hannah was commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate to write a further mystery for him to solve. The Monogram Murders was a success and since then Hannah has written three more adventures. An LRC staff review of the latest, The Killings at Kingfisher Hill can be found here.
One character that outlived Christie was the perpetually old Miss Marple. Christie never tired of her in the same way that she did Poirot. Christie was inspired to write a novel featuring an elderly spinster when a stage adaptation of one of her previous novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was adapted for the stage. The character of Caroline Shepherd, an elderly spinster who seemed to know everything about village activities, was replaced by a young girl. Christie decided to address this slight by creating a whole novel to feature such an old maid.
In 1930, just as she was finding Poirot to be insufferable, she wrote The Murder at the Vicarage. From then until her death in 1976, she wrote 12 novels and more short stories featuring the astute Jane Marple. Many of these novels and short stories have also been adapted for tv and film.
Christie also wrote many stand alone novels, short story collections and plays. One of the most famous of which is The Mousetrap. Famous not only as a Christie play but also as the answer to the quiz question “What is the longest running play in the West End?”. Right now, no one is attending plays but fingers crossed The Mousetrap emerges intact at the end of this pandemic.
And if you’re interested in reading some Christie and sharing your ideas and thoughts, then you could sign up for the read Christie 2021 challenge and join in with the Agatha Christie virtual book club via Instagram and Facebook. Click this link for more information on the books and how to participate. Read Christie 2021
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
***Hot off the Press*** (well, publication date was 7th January)
I was lucky enough to have an advanced copy of this to read from Netgalley and publisher Hodder & Stoughton. And my, what a tense story it turned out to be. The story of a young Vietnamese woman Thanh Dao coming to the UK for a better life only to find herself at the ‘mercy’ of a stranger, Lenn. He takes her to his farm in the bleak East Anglian Fens as his modern day slave to cook for him, clean his home and be a wife to him. He expects her to keep house in completely the same way as his mother did, and refers to her as Jane, the name of his late wife, stripping Thanh of her identity. He further gradually erodes this as, piece by piece, he burns her valued possessions.
The reality of her life now becomes apparent in the opening chapter. She is trying to escape from the farm and Lenn. She’s injured and walking painfully slowly towards freedom along the track from the farmhouse, a main road tantalisingly near but in her physical condition, still so far away. He, of course, returns and takes her back to the house.
She longs to escape but she is both physically terrified of him and afraid for her sister who arrived in England with her, and is threatened with deportation if she were to leave or if anything were to happen to Lenn.
She is trapped but then a turn of events culminates in a desperate need to flee. This story is told in the first person which helps with our understanding of how Thanh found herself in this situation and just how it is so hard for her to leave.
This proved to be not only be a very tense story but also a very compelling one. It was quite hard to put down whilst at the same time a break from this seemingly impossible situation was needed! Thanh Dao is a strong character and a lot of time is spent willing her on. A very good read.
Lockdown may be back but so is The Body Coach. Back in March, Joe Wicks (now Joe Wicks MBE) endeavoured to keep the nation’s children (and their parents) fit. His PT sessions will once again be live on Youtube at 9am on Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays.
On Christmas Eve, Comic Relief put together an all star cast for a very entertaining pantomime of Cinderella. Featuring a cast list that appeared to be stolen from the Netflix homepage (stars of The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, and The Crown), a Zoom performance was shown on BBC2 and can still be seen here.
Worried about fines as we enter another lockdown? No problem. All loans have been renewed and fines waived while the LRC was closed. Books can now be returned to the College. Please contact the LRC to find out about current procedures.
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