Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lending authority

The most-borrowed books from libraries, argues Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian, have qualities that are too often ignored.
Catherine Cookson, Josephine Cox and Maeve Binchy all write with the kind of craftsmanship often missing from more lofty literary titles. The worlds their books inhabit - the north country in the case of Cookson and Cox, and Ireland for Binchy - are intimately known and deeply understood. Their narrators display not a jot of fashionable unreliability (they are usually working girls with no time or space in their lives for whimsy). If, in the end, things generally work out for the best - that is, with a marriage - there is no hiding the fact that there has been loss and suffering along the way. The realism here is strictly of the non-magical kind. Dogs do not suddenly sprout wings, a recipe for stew remains a recipe for stew rather than an enchanted potion, and no one turns out to be an hermaphrodite. It is life, and it is exactly as we know it. Which is why library users - perhaps the purest kind of readers - simply can't get enough of it.

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