As Heidegger might have said, it’s a well-known fact that there are only three decent jokes about libraries. Well four if you count the feeble play on words about the frog (see * below) and Heidegger may have struggled with that one because it’s just anthropomorphic phonetics.
But incredibly, I discovered another joke about a library, and a good one at that, last week. It’s visual. So being a fine artist imbued with the core tenets of critical theory I’ll describe it in words. A man approaches the counter of a library; the shelves behind are empty and bereft of books; he’s obviously just asked the librarian a question, because she’s answering him: ‘I’m sorry the kindle is out on loan at the moment’. There is a nonplussed, slightly resigned look to the man’s face.
Well it made me laugh. Or to be true, grin a little. Not for long, but just a little. It neatly augments the other three jokes which, for the price of an overdue book fine, I can share with you. You see I still take books out the library. Even if it does take one helpful librarian in the vast mansion-like halls of the new Swanston Library to show me how to take it out [pin number, swipe card, print receipt… take the exit over there … actually I think it’s over there…] and then another helpful librarian to point to the hole in the wall where I insert the book that I’ve taken out – and may have even read. So sparkling, so spanking new is our lovely library, that the letterbox in the wall is still a mere dotted line yet to be cut away. There was even a symbol of a pair of scissors pasted there to remind the sub-contractors that it had yet to be done.
You simply can’t get enough of books. Especially those colouring-in ones. I’m becoming a dab hand at keeping within the lines. But I like book launches even better. I’ve had a brace of them lately. Perhaps I’ve become one of those ‘lads that launches’, as distinct from those ‘ladies that lunch’. Six of my brilliant new media staff invited me to the wonderful Brunswick bookshop to launch their new book on screen ecologies – what a title! It was fab. I even wore the wrong jacket with the wrong trousers, or it could have been the wrong trousers with the wrong jacket.
Last month I launched a couple of my very own books. Yes, books full of words, texts, even footnotes on some pages, and lots of pictures, sometimes bought at exorbitant and extortionate cost from copyright houses, whom I fear will drive arts publishing out of business.
There’s a picture of me launching a book on the 20th century British painter Sir Stanley Spencer. It tells the vexatious tales of three intrepid people in the 1920s – a patron who put the money up to house Spencer’s war memorial murals; an architect who tried in vain to build the right building for the paintings; and the artist who more often than not disagreed with them both. It’s the stuff of Shakespeare. Without the rhyming couplets. Both Spencer’s daughters were there, now aged 90 and 85 – what an honour. Five years in the making, the event was simply wonderful. The book may have been a labour of love, but after five years hard graft it felt at times more like hard bloody labour than love.
Then onto the deepest reaches of Cornwall, that obscure but sublimely inspirational tip of olde England. It is said that the UK is shaped like some gigantic sock, actually like one of those Christmas stockings in which all the nuts fall down to the very end. Cornwall can be a bit like that. All the nuts tumbling to the very end. I think it’s meant light-heartedly. Hope so. In the cathedral city of Truro I launched a different book with the brilliantly talented painter Paul Lewin. He painted the pictures: I wrote the text. We both felt rather pleased to bring back into the English language a word not used often enough, I’ll leave you to look it up – it’s at the end of the dictionary – Zawn.
And sadly, or maybe gladly, it’s not yet, nor likely ever, to be on kindle.
*Frog flicking through a pile of books, says after discarding each one: ‘Reditt, reditt, reditt….’ Gettit?