This morning I read an article on a proposal to build the first public library in Iraq since the 1970s – and the mock-ups are seriously stunning. This got me thinking about my hometown’s library, which is a carbuncle of a building but the very fact that it exists and serves the community is something to be thankful for – and it was always there for me as I grew up. Well, until it wasn’t any more. You see, I have a shameful secret…
I’m effectively banned from my local library
And it’s all down to this book: ‘Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade: How to Survive Life’s Smaller Challenges’, by Guy Browning. It’s a compilation of some of the best of Browning’s write-ups for his weekly Guardian column, which offers silly musings and advice on a whole host of unrelated little features of life. I borrowed it from the library after being seriously tickled by what I read while I was browsing for that week’s haul. At the time I was also working behind a bar, and had developed a heavyweight crush on a sharp-witted, intellectual fellow barman with whom I had started a two-person book club. Normally we swapped fairly highbrow titles, but having so enjoyed the silliness of NHAJWAS (which sounds like an intimidatingly hot curry) I thought I would try to lighten things up, be a little more playful. I received in return a copy of Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka by the Shore’ and a disdainful look, and we never exchanged books again.
In what I can only assume was an attempt to block out the cringe, I didn’t think about my poor little library book again until I had been away and done a term at university – and came home to a letter threatening me with a court summons if I didn’t pay the sizeable fine and return or pay for the book. Now, I was poor before I went to uni but by the time I had done just a few months there I was stoney broke. I quite literally pawned my jewellery to buy food one week; I certainly didn’t have the cash to pay what I owed the library. So, I’m ashamed to say I dealt with this letter by filing it in the waste paper basket and praying that I wouldn’t end up locked in library jail. This did seem to work… although I paid the high price of knowing that I wouldn’t be able to set foot in my hometown library again for shame and also for a half-genuine fear of seeing my face on sepia-tone ‘WANTED’ posters all over the walls.
Despite the trauma of the last time I recommended NHAJWAS to somebody, I still think that Browning is a seriously funny, observant writer, and he would probably have some good advice for me on what to do when you find yourself living as a book-loving fugitive. (“Pay for my book in a shop, cheapo”, perhaps?). It’s perfect if you find yourself with snippets of time here and there, for example while commuting. For brewandbook readers overseas, be warned that the humour is very English and will not be to everybody’s tastes. But if you do like that sort of thing, it does “that sort of thing” exceptionally well.
I’ve finished this and want something similar:
David Sedaris is the perfect American counterpart to Browning’s Britishness. Why not try ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’ – which I suggest purely because it has the best cover artwork out of all of his books. Really, you could just take your pick.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments if you have any book-related cringe stories to tell! Sharing is caring, guys.
Artwork credit: Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature) [Ernst Haeckel]