While I was writing this love letter to public libraries, I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of the books I’ve borrowed from public libraries over the last two years – in print, ebook and audiobook format – which I’ve absolutely loved. Honestly though, browsing the shelves of the library – either in-person or virtually on their app – is one of the highlights of my week. It’s like visiting a bookshop – I find books which I’ve heard such good things about and have been meaning to read for ages or I stumble upon books I’ve never heard of but which sound like they’d be right up my street. And unlike visiting a bookshop, I can read those books for free (much appreciated by a broke PhD student who’s trying to get her book-buying addiction under control). What a rush!
So here’s a list of my favourite finds in the library treasure troves.
Ada Twist, Scientist – I loved this book just as much as I did its predecessor Rosie Revere, Engineer. The art is stunning, the characters are great and the story does a stellar job of promoting scientific enquiry – which in this case means embarking on a quest to discover the source of the world’s most awful smell.
The Wee Free Men – I love the DiscWorld books and so, it seems, do the public libraries. I’ve read a few Terry Pratchett books courtesy the library’s generous collection, but I read this one the first time I was in Scotland and it just filled my heart with delight.
The Ministry of Strange, Unusual, Impossible Things – I’d never heard of this book until I spotted it on a library shelf and I’m so glad I picked it up because it was fantastical and funny and utterly bonkers. I definitely need to keep an eye out for the other two books in this series.
Five Children On The Western Front – I adore Edith Nesbit’s writing – especially Five Children And It and the other two books in the trilogy. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of a new writer taking over a beloved series but meeting the familiar characters in a poignant new setting just made my heart both very happy and very sad (in a good way; it was a good book).
One Crazy Summer – This complex, engaging, funny book full of complex, engaging, funny characters looks at serious, grownup, complicated issues with the unblinking gaze directed at them by eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. I love sassy, hilarious, wonderful not-even-a-teenager-yet Delphine, who – with her no-nonsense approach to life in general and her sisters in particular – is much more of an adult than I could ever hope to be.
Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls – I kept resisting the temptation to buy this while I was visiting bookshops even though I was dying to read it because I didn’t want to lug it back to India. So I was super excited to spot this on a library display and picked it up, which caused a librarian to be super excited because she’d put it up earlier that day hoping to entice someone into borrowing it.
The Hero’s Guide To Storming The Castle – I love retellings of fairy tales and this series is hilarious. I own the first book – The Hero’s Guide To Saving Your Kingdom – and was so happy that I found the second one waiting for me to borrow. It was just as funny, action-packed and full of great characters and hijinks.
Booked – I was quite wary about trying books in verse (how do they work? Will I ever like any? Will I ever understand any?!) before I read so many great ones. Now it’s a format I really enjoy because it’s always full of such innovations and great ideas using such few words. This book about a football loving boy who falls in love with words is one of my favourites in the genre.
How To Build A Girl – I wanted to hug this book. I felt hugged by this book. It was hilarious. But it also broke my heart. (And FYI, Caitlin Moran is all kinds of excellent. I am similarly in love with her nonfiction).
Uprooted – This was a book I’d heard a lot about online but never particularly felt drawn to until one fateful day in the library when I picked it up on a whim and loved the writing, the characters, the setting and the story. I now have a firm eye on her latest book – Spinning Silver – which is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.
Through The Woods – I tend not to love all the graphic novels I read. I mean they’re fine, but they usually don’t dazzle my brain like many other kinds of books do (I’m obviously severely under-read in the graphic novels department because I’m sure there are some fantastic ones out there; I just have to go on a quest to find them). But this one was an exception to my usual experience (the other exception is Nimona). It’s scary short stories that are well written and excellently illustrated and really managed to creep me out even in the bright light of day (I wasn’t brave enough to read this at night).
The Diary of a Bookseller – Even otherwise this is a lovely, funny book. But I think I may have loved this book extra hard because I actually visited this wonderful secondhand bookshop featured in this book. It was on a road trip to Wigtown, Scotland’s official book town, and both the place and the trip brings back the best memories.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – I very vaguely knew of Jenny Lawson and her blog The Bloggess but I hadn’t encountered her before I spotted this mad cover on an innocuous bookshelf. I’m so glad I know her now because this book of essays is filled with both hilarious and tragic life experiences.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – I loved Allie Brosh’s (now defunct) blog when I first discovered it years ago (it made me laugh to tears several times) and I’m so happy this book exists. Like the one above, this is also a book in the hilarious and tragic categorybut with more MS Paint pictures.
God: A Human History – Reza Aslan is a treasure; an extremely smart, great researcher and stellar writer kind of treasure. I loved Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth for exactly the same reasons I loved this book – he offers a fascinating history of humans and all the ways in which they engage with each other and the world through the framework of religion. I would honestly read anything he writes.