Friday, 11 February 2011

bampton library read-in


I was honoured to be asked to take part in the read-in last Saturday at Bampton library, one of 20 that Oxfordshire County Council wants to close.

Supporters gathered in the Market Square before walking along Rosemary Lane to the seventeenth-century building that houses the library and meeting room. The building, along with the neighbouring houses and cottages, featured in the recent TV series Downton Abbey.

Kirsty Young started the event off by expressing wholehearted support for the read-in and saying how much libraries had meant to her when she was a child.

The read-in took place in the library meeting room and people dropped by throughout the morning to listen to the invited authors or to read a favourite poem or a passage from a cherished book. Meanwhile the library itself was open for business. Many books were borrowed and new members signed up.

Kirsty Young began the readings with a children's story and was great with the kids.

The guest writers included local authors Mary Hoffman (a veteran supporter of save-library campaigns), Linda Newbery, Candida Lycett Green, David Wiseman and Spooks writer Richard McBrian.

It was lovely to see Candida Lycett Green. In 2002 I reviewed her wonderful book Over the Hills and Far Away for the TLS. The book combines a celebration of the English countryside with memories of her father and mother, Sir John and Lady Betjeman. Candida wrote the book after making a journey through parts of England on horseback to raise money for a cancer charity--she had not long before been treated for breast cancer.

My readings were a short extract from Invisible about the rural landscape around Bampton and a poem by the Cuban writer and journalist Yndamiro Restano called Prison. Restano was imprisoned in the early 1990s for what he had written. The poem was taken from the anthology Another Sky, which is published in association with English PEN (http://www.englishpen.org), the organisation that campaigns for writers of conscience who are imprisoned or censored around the world.

I wanted to make the point that freedom of speech and an appreciation of how vital books are to our wellbeing, our education and to our culture are supposed to be prized in this country and how incomprehensible it is that libraries are being targeted for closure.

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