& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Library – past & present

One of the best things about our Toronto home is that it’s walking distance from the Amesbury Park branch of the Toronto Public Library (photograph). Public libraries are a new concept for me. I wasn’t aware of their existence in Toronto before I came here. 

The best part: Membership is free for a Torontonian.

I was at the library today with Mahrukh and requested for The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (edited by Carol Ann Howells). I didn’t know of the book. The librarian at the helpdesk helped me make the choice. I just told her that I need a book on Atwood (not by Atwood) for writing a paper in March.

The librarian was polite, attentive and helpful. I don’t recollect having had such an experience in Mumbai. I’m not suggesting that the librarians in Toronto are better informed about books than their counterparts in Mumbai. It's just that they have better resources at their disposal, and they are willing to help.

In Mumbai during the 1980s, I was a member of several libraries and had the time to visit them all. The only library where the person behind the counter tried to guide me was at the Lokmanya Seva Sangh library in Vile Parle East (its website is under construction. The URL is: www.lssparle.org.in/. I haven’t been to that library since the mid-1980s, so my impressions may not be relevant about its state at present.

In those days, there were a few individuals at the Lokmanya Seva Sangh library who had taken the trouble to stock that library with an amazing range of books. There’s certainly something about the generation of Marathi-speaking people who are now past 60; some of them are true renaissance men (and women) in the sense that they aspire to acquire truly holistic (as opposed to specific) knowledge. The depth and range of their interest is staggering.

One such gentleman – unfortunately I forget his name – guided me to classics such as Tin Drum (Gunter Grass), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez), Lord of the Flies (William Golding). And not all of these books were with that library at that time. I read Marquez and Golding, but couldn't read the Tin Drum. 

Let’s get back to my library on the Lawrence Avenue West. It’s an impressive structure, with glass-covered roof that lets in day light. It has a small reading-room on the north and the south end, and has rows of books, magazines, movies, documentaries and what-have-you.

One section is reserved for what graphic novels. The first time I had read about graphic novels was in Lounge, the newspaper Mint’s brilliant weekend edition. I was under the (erroneous) impression that graphic novel was just a high-falutin’ rechristening of the comic book. So, when I first saw the graphic books section at my library I was not too keen. Most of the books were definitely no more than comics – they were just better designed and the visuals were stunning. But not for me.

However, in the adult graphic novels section I chanced upon a classic: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. My next blog is on this absolutely brilliant graphic novel.

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