I’m reading a collection of short stories about public libraries by the acclaimed scottish writer Ali Smith, a collection larded with statements made by other writers about the necessity and importance of public libraries. Suddenly it dawned upon me how indeed this kind of communal service shaped my own tastes too. Not only for books, but also for music and much more.
My first experience with libraries is still vey much engraved in my mind. In Ostend (Belgium) where i was born- libraries were the only places allowed by my parents to satisfy my ache for mystery, adventure, the un-common which never-endingly churned in my mind.
My father declared when I was young the radio off limits for us by stating that no one could sing properly anymore after 1945. Waste of time radio was. Studying and doing the school assignments was what our home was stood for. Home was definitely not ‘fun’.
But then I entered one day sneakily a shadowy public library in which all the books looked the same. All clad with the same brown cover. One had to pick randomly a book, open it in order to read the title. The possible seduction of the picture on the front was taken care of that way by the powers that reigned this library.
But soon enough I started to recognize the kind of books I wanted to read exactly by their size and format. Easiest to distinguish were the comics of course (one of the reasons I entered this library was because I’d heard they lent this forbidden literary fruit) which started in me a lifelong fascination for this art form: the pulp comics always seemed to be much thinner than the more difficult ones. I soon opted for the thicker ones. I read Tintins, Gil Jourdans and comics by Peyo and Franquin at a very young age. READING. Savoring. Scanning. Reading again. Daydreaming. Copying.
Buying books was prohibited at home. Fantasy was prohibited. A far too dangerous stuff. Though bit by bit I became completely hooked on this activity my parents feared: developing my imagination. The latter helped me to enter later around 1972- again almost illegally- a library containing LPs. With classical music. Strangely enough also with a large section of 20th century pieces. (Meanwhile I had read about most of the contemporary composers. Not heard them. But when I brought home for thr first time my load of LPs, I almost recognized them all because of the description I somehow remembered). I still remember these first treasure trove I brought home: Strawinsky: Symphony of Psalms combined with Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus. Milhaud’s La création and Le boeuf sur le toit. Boulez’s early recording of Improvisation sur Mallarmée 1. Bartok and Britten: Music for strings. And Falla’s clavicembalo concerto with the most haunting bars (in the slow part (6:27) of these early listening experiences. It took me many years to actually see this particular combination of flute, clarinet, violin an cello. (Later I asked Raf De Keninck (VlaS) to combine this piece with my own pianoconcerto during concerts).
Bit by bit public libraries instilled a new need in my mind: not only borrowing but buying books and scores. Again a never ceasing ache, I hope never to lose it.
1000 public libraries disappeared in England while Smith wrote her book. While millions of people believe one of the greatest rip offs of our time: the cloud. Give me a piece of paper any day. To me it smells like ‘future’. The real one, not the virtual 🙂