Keeping Track of Library Books

Let me confess. I love libraries. I love almost everything about them, from the faint smell of dust to the sound of distant voices, the gentle clatter of book trolleys and the click-thump of the date stamp. Back when university libraries were quiet, empty places where you could do serious work, I did serious work in them, including a PhD thesis and some of the first things I ever published. I even wrote two high-speed, strictly-for-the-money, no names no pack drill history books in a university library, scribbling away for weeks like a student with all the deadlines for an entire degree course coming down at once. It was great fun.

But one thing about libraries annoys me: having to take the books back before a certain date. It’s not so bad if you have one library card and you visit regularly. But if you have three or four library cards, plus a couple belonging to your kids, it can be difficult to keep track. Even more so if the loan periods are all different and the numbers of books large. My staff library card at the university library, for example, allows me to take out more books than I can lift for an entire year. And while my local library cards only give me five for a fortnight, I have two cards. My daughter’s card allows her to take out books for a fortnight and DVDs for a week. You see where I’m going with this. We pay fines.

Let it not be said however that I am a person who sits back and puts up with something when a complex technological solution is only a few clicks away. Many libraries these days allow you to manage your borrowing online, much like a bank. But what would really help would be a way of getting the due dates from the library website to my calendar. Enter a clever piece of Mac only software called Library Books, which can be downloaded from here. The developer asks for donations if you like using the software.

Library Books places a little star in the taskbar and a number to indicate the books you have on loan. Click on the star and you get details of all your borrowings from multiple libraries. You can add the information to the Mac’s calendar, iCal, with a single click, to receive reminders in good time about when your books should be going back. Setting up the system is easy. Several UK library systems, and many others from other countries are listed as presets and you can also set up unlisted libraries using the “generic” library types. University of Liverpool is an INNOPAC system, for example which is listed. You enter your user name and password, and Library Books connects to your library account. You can even list several library accounts at once, which is very useful. If your specific library isn’t listed the developer will add it as a preset if you ask nicely.

I’m going to see how I get on using it. Here’s the link to Library Books again (Mac users only).

Posted by Chris Routledge

Mersey Minis Giveaway: Liverpool 800

Today marks the 800th anniversary of Liverpool’s town charter and publisher Capsica is celebrating the event by giving away the entire 5,000-copy print run of Longing, the third in its Mersey Minis series. Mersey Minis contain writing about Liverpool and the River Mersey from the past 800 years. The final two volumes, Loving and Leaving, will be launched in September and November respectively. Names already featured in the series include Charles Dickens, John Lennon, Will Self, King John, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Courtney Love, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Tracey Emin.

Copies of Longing, which includes new writing about Liverpool by over 80 authors, will be handed out at over 50 different venues across Merseyside on August 28th and The Reader is helping to give away copies of the book. Everyone who emails us on Tuesday 28th August will get a free copy of Longing. Just send an email including your postal address to us using the contact form in the menu above. All new subscribers to The Reader magazine will also get a free copy of Longing until all our copies are gone. Deborah Mulhearn, editor and compiler of Longing is featured in The Reader Number 28, which will be published at Christmas 2007.

More information about Mersey Minis is available here. You can subscribe to The Reader here.

Winter Blues

Writer and editor Helen Tookey is already predicting the start of autumn and the approach of winter and to make matters worse she’s been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet almost guaranteed to bring on an attack of the winter blues. Over on her blog she’s written a short appreciation of the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ that addresses his remarkable ability to ‘feel’ his mortality and accept it:

There must have been hundreds of poems prompted by the melancholy scent of autumn in the air (as it is at the minute, towards the end of August), but one of the best must be ‘Spring and Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), subtitled ‘To a young child’:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, nor no mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

There are so many things so perfectly expressed here: what seems the simple sorrow of a child at the dying, falling leaves; the painful adult knowledge of the world’s ways, and of death, and the painful knowledge too that your child will come to know this in his or her turn; and the feeling that the child is actually suffering from a sadness she can’t yet understand or articulate; and the awful thought of the child’s own mortality as well as of your own.

Here’s the link to the whole post.

Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote is a new book by Jill Liddington, about the forgotten suffragettes across the north of England. Published by Virago it tracks the story of those who took their message out to the remotest Yorkshire dales to win Edwardian hearts and minds.

Jill Liddington will be speaking about the book at a host of events across the country this autumn, and is visiting Liverpool on Saturday 6th October. For full details of these events click here

Links we liked for August 23

I’ve been away on a Scottish island odyssey for the last couple of weeks, but The Reader’s flock of Internet starlings has been hard at work. Here are some of the juiciest worms they found:

Recommendation. Vintage’s much-publicised series of literary pairings received a stylish boost with A.S. Byatt’s recommendation of Middlemarch in The Guardian newspaper. Eliot’s novel is paired with Byatt’s Possession in the Vintage Classic Twins series. Both novels are of course “books for grown-up people”.

Books for children seem to have been in the news a lot this summer. But however successful the Children’s Book That Cannot Be Named may be, helping children to read is an ongoing challenge for many parents. One innovative service that might help is Tumblebooks, described as “an online collection of read-along titles for elementary, middle school, and high school students which features adjustable online text and complete audio narration. Sentences are highlited as they are being read and the pages turn automatically … ” The Reader Online has no connection with Tumblebooks, but it sounds like an interesting idea for a digital native generation.

On Literary Festivals. The Times carried an interesting piece about the growth of book festivals and quotes Armando Iannucci pitching for an intern job at The Reader: “People are hungry for substance and unafraid of ideas and big themes.” We concur.

How To Write a Book. And for those budding (and otherwise) writers among you, here’s a bombastic blog article by technology writer and consultant Scott Berkun in which he argues that anyone can write a book. It may suck, but …

Walk of Shame Award. And talking of Scottish islands, Scotland on Sunday reported on the first day of the Edinburgh Festival on a conversation between Will Self and Philip Gourevitch, who recently held a month-long residency on the island of Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984. His shocking admission when faced with the prospect of walking: “I haven’t been to Barnhill. I drove up to the end of the road in a downpour and the guy who controls the gate wasn’t around. I couldn’t find anybody to open it so I could drive up there.”

Posted by Chris

Free Thinking

BBC Radio 3 & Radio Merseyside’s Free Thinking Festival returns to Liverpool

Free Thinking BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Merseyside’s festival of ideas returns to Liverpool for a weekend of debates, talks, performance and conversation from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th November. At the heart of this year’s festival is one of the 21st century’s most contested ideals: freedom. Look out for The Reader‘s Books at Breakfast event, being held on the Saturday and Sunday, more details to follow.

Romanian Summer Diary 6

Saturday 4th August ­ ­– Things I have seen in Romania ­

A cow grazing by a brand new glass-plate office suite
A drunk old man falling into the gate to his house while trying to open it
A 1970s Romanian-built Renault with BMW badges
A funeral parlour blaring out rap music
A taxi firm called Trans Prod
A 17th century church glazed with UPVC windows
A crazily leaning shack proclaiming itself the Hotel Lido
A pig on a balcony on the block of flats opposite
A gyspy woman walking along a smart shopping street while breast-feeding
In time-forgotten villages, gleaming cars with Italian plates outside the houses
A hearse with “FUN” on its number plate
A tree in a beauty spot with beer cans stuck up its branches – Christmas come early?
A company called Semi-Daniel – a case of split personality?
A herd of sheep on a train
A horse and cart in a supermarket car park
A beggar with an Armani T-shirt
A seller of Dolce & Banana watches
In the market Crowds of old women weeping at the death of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch

All of these would be ample opportunity for any photographer or journalist. They would send back a report peppered with “local colour”, confident that they have got to the heart of the place. Some, more enlightened, might skirt away from the really obvious ones – the cow, for example, reflected in the plate-glass window – dismissing them as clichés. And certainly the list is full of such clichés, almost all of them boiling down to contrast: between old and new, communist and capitalist, Orient and Occident.

Romania as a country is not afraid of clichés. We get on with it, the typical shrug of the shoulders and benevolent nod of the head accompanying us. Perhaps in this crazed sunshine, there are some Western niceties which just don’t apply.

The budding teachers at the English school are learning…

Tuesday 15th August The Brits have left and another year will run its course of change before the next summer school. Each year we take the volunteers to the Black sea coast for a few days, and then to Bucharest, before the tearful journey to the airport. We ask ourselves, and so do they, whether what they have seen is the true face of Romania. Among this year’s highlights there have been desperate phonecalls for a comfort stop on the way to Constantza, trunks lost whilst skinny dipping and midnight rowing on Herastrau lake in Bucharest. Occasionally we get returning volunteers: I remember this, is so and so still there, is that still going, the kid I taught then has gone to university. I, too, am like that now – in my native country a visitor, with a bagful of memories and apprehensive of new experiences every year, relieved to go back home and eager to return the next summer. Invariably.

I am yet to find how much of the attraction in all this lies in the security of the past and how much in the challenge of the new. All in a summer’s teaching job.

William Faulkner and the End of Man

Like James Joyce, William Faulkner has an unjust reputation as a ‘difficult’ writer. Perhaps for this reason he is relatively underrepresented online. William Faulkner On The Web is by far the most comprehensive online resource on the writer and his works. It includes summaries of his works, bibliographies, character analyses and a great deal of other material. Faulkner. In fact Faulkner was a man of high ideals and surprising optimism; his stories are often very funny in a bleak sort of way. While novels such as As I Lay Dying take a humorous look at the grim lives of their characters, Faulkner is also sympathetic and perhaps just a little bit admiring of their resilience.

But what about his idealism and optimism? On December 10, 1950 William Faulkner addressed an audience in Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize. In his speech he argued that the fear of global destruction had distracted writers from the real purpose of literature, which is to understand the problems of the human heart. He went on:

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

Here’s a link to the whole speech.