Horrible Author Thinks Libraries Are Outdated Concept

LibraryEarlier this week, Terry Deary, author of the popular (in the UK) Horrible Histories series, started quite the shit-storm when he declared that libraries “have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”, among other things. Apparently Deary just wants people to buy his books instead of getting them for free. Never mind the fact that he also says library use is declining in the UK, which would seem to lessen the impact on his bottom line.

First off, something I wasn’t aware of is the fact that UK authors are paid a small fee every time one of their books is checked out from a UK library, with the total amount capped at £6,600 annually. That sounds like an awesome idea that I wish was feasible to implement in the US. I have a feeling that it wouldn’t fit into library budgets, however. Even still, that payment wasn’t enough for Deary, who feels entitled to the sales he thinks he would have made if those were books bought instead of checked out.

Deary’s rant, focusing as it does on his need to get paid, manages to come off as petulant, greedy and classist to boot. In one gem of a quote, he declares that “this is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature” because I guess poverty is no longer a worldwide epidemic, right? Poor people who want to read should just skip a meal and pay for books instead, and when physical books go the way of the buffalo, they should start paying for e-readers and internet access too. (But that’s a whole other issue.)

Never mind the fact that books are more than just commerce. A good book is food for the soul, and libraries make readers. Readers buy books. Just because it’s possible to get books for free from the library doesn’t mean people stop buying books as well, and it never has. I’ve always got a good half-dozen books checked out from the library, but I still spend $50-$100 a month on new and used books.

Also, it’s a fallacy to assume that if libraries went away that people would buy as many books as they borrowed. I buy a lot of books as it is, but I’d probably have to double or triple my budget to buy as many books as I check out from the library. It’s just not going to happen. It’s the same fallacy record labels use to claim that every pirated mp3 equates to a “lost sale”. When people can get things for free – from the library or by piracy – they tend to pick up more than they would ever buy.

Of course, libraries are about more than “free books”. They’re one of the few public spaces where you can sit and work or read and use the wifi without having to buy a cup of coffee. They provide easy access to computers and the internet for people who wouldn’t have access otherwise. They offer community events, meeting places, educational programs and more. Also, librarians do more than shelve books. They’re skilled researchers, talented educators, and passionate evangelists for great books. Every librarian I’ve ever met is a huge book-lover, and you don’t want to get on a book-lover’s bad side.

Ultimately, you have to wonder what exactly Deary was thinking when he decided to air his complaint. I suppose he felt like an iconoclast declaring a subversive opinion, but mostly he just came off like an avaricious, tone-deaf idiot. It’s bad enough that bookstores are closing by the dozens; if libraries started closing down at the same rate, I’d consider us lost as a species.

To paraphrase John Waters: “If you go home with someone, and they don’t like libraries, don’t fuck ’em!”

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The RookPublished: January 11th 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre(s): Fantasy, Spy Thriller, Comedy
Format: Hardcover
Length: 486 pages

When the heroine of The Rook wakes up, she finds herself standing in a park in the pouring rain, surrounded by dead bodies and with no memory of her life or the events that led her to her current predicament. Luckily, the former occupant of her body, one Myfawnwy (pronounced “Miffany”) Thomas, was both meticulous and forewarned, and so she prepared for every eventuality by leaving two letters in the coat our heroine is wearing.

The first starts as follows: “The body you are wearing used to be mine.” Much of the novel unfolds as a one-sided conversation between the woman Myfawnwy used to be and the one she becomes after losing her memory. For simplicity’s sake, O’Malley refers to the latter as Myfawnwy and the former as Thomas.

Thomas lays out two options for Myfawnwy to follow: she can either assume a fake identity and hide from whoever is trying to kill her, or she can work to fit herself back into the role and identity of her “predecessor” and try to solve the mystery of her attack. Naturally, she chooses the second option, or else the novel would have wrapped up very quickly.

It turns out that Thomas is a high-level bureaucrat in a secret organization called the Checquy which devotes itself to controlling and covering up supernatural threats to the UK. She also has powers of her own, as do all upper-level members of the organization. Myfawnwy discovers those powers inadvertently when she is attacked a second time and uses them to knock out several more people at once. However, as she reads more into Thomas’ history, it becomes clear that she never quite lived up to her potential. Even though she could have been powerful, she preferred desk work to field work, and had a reputation for shyness.

The conceit of an amnesiac main character is an excellent way of introducing readers to the strange world of the Checquy. Myfawnwy’s coworkers run the gamut from her fairly normal corporate secretary to an entity called Gestalt who controls four bodies with one mind. O’Malley populates this world with strange and occasionally horrible details that live in uncomfortable proximity to each other.

Myfawnwy is also a fantastic character, frequently hilarious and always likable as she bullshits her way through departmental meetings and unexpected field work. The perspective bounces back and forth between Myfawnwy’s modern-day adventures and Thomas’ letters, which fill in backstory and handle a lot of the world-building. Myfawnwy is also surrounded by great characters in the present day, from her too-beautiful American counterpart who becomes a good friend, to the disgustingly unhinged villain who confronts her later in the book.

The Rook is commonly compared to a lot of other authors and books, but it’s definitely more than the sum of its influences. The best description I could come up with when summarizing the book for a friend was that it’s a bit like The Bourne Identity with Terry Pratchett’s sense of humor. if you’ve ever read anything by Tom Holt, I think his work is a fair comparison; he also enjoys mashing up mundane things like accounting with werewolves and vampires.

The one criticism I would make of the book is that Thomas’ letters consist almost entirely of infodumps. It makes sense for the character, and O’Malley mostly gets away with it, but I do wish the balance leaned more towards Myfawnwy learning about her world through footwork rather than reading those letters.

In any case, I loved the book, and am very excited that O’Malley plans on writing more books in the same universe. The Rook wraps of Myfawnwy’s story pretty neatly, so my guess is that future books might focus on other characters, but if he does choose to revisit this character at a later point in her life, I won’t complain.

LOVED IT
LOVED IT

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