Becoming The Librarian – The books that defined my reading identity

When I started this blog, I chose to adopt the persona of The Librarian from Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University for a couple of reasons. The first was simply that I’m a big fan of orangutans, and I can’t think of a more illustrious orangutan in all of literature. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to remain anonymous, although I’m not sure that I can really articulate why I wanted to do so. Regardless, I had no real expectation of any sort of communication with others in this alternate persona. However, the internet being what it is, I have slowly begun connecting with an online community of writers, reviewers, and bloggers, which led me to a thought. What sort of identity do I have as The Librarian (beyond a love of bananas and incredible upper body strength)? Well, as someone who writes book reviews and other book-related thoughts, it seems clear that my identity as The Librarian is very much defined by reading. The what, the why, the where, and the when.

Someone once said, ‘it’s not about the destination, but about the journey you take to get there’, and it is with that concept in mind that I want to share the journey that my reading identity has taken to become what it is today. To do this I want to talk about a few books that I’ve read over the years. Now, the books on this list aren’t necessarily the greatest books I’ve ever read. Nor are they my necessarily my favourites. Instead, they are the books that have had the greatest effect in shaping me into the reader that I am today. Each has laid a cornerstone of my reading identity today, for which I will always be grateful.

1993 (Age 7) The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster

I was a reading machine from quite a young age, reading everything that I could get my hands on both at home and at school. The majority of these books were those series that are written to help develop the reading abilities of young children. As such, they weren’t exactly memorable. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of them. When the school’s book supplies were eventually exhausted, my form teacher suggested my mum buy me a book that she thought not only would be a challenge for me but would also really pique my interest. That book was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It was the first book I read that felt like a ‘grown-up’ book (perspective is a wonderful thing) and to this day I can remember so much of it, even though I’ve not read it in goodness knows how many years )Of course, once you’ve read a book ten or more times it becomes much easier to recall). Looking back, part of me feels that the mass reading I did prior to The Phantom Tollbooth was not necessarily because I loved reading or the stories themselves. Rather, I just saw reading and finishing all these books as a task that needed to be completed and I wanted to be as efficient as possible. It was only once I had read The Phantom Tollbooth that I begin to truly appreciate the joys of reading and the stories that were waiting to be read.

1998 (Age 12) The Last Continent – Terry Pratchett

I’m not sure if anyone knows this, but I’m quite fond of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. In fact, I feel confident in saying that I’ll take great satisfaction from re-reading the series until I hear the words IT’S TIME. Now, The Last Continent certainly isn’t the pinnacle of Pratchett’s epic series. In fact, I would argue that it is actually one of the weaker instalments. But that doesn’t really matter, because it was my first. For all its faults regarding the overall plot and story, it’s still hilarious and, from the moment I started reading it, I was hooked on Pratchett. But the effect of The Last Continent isn’t just limited to my dedication to all things Discworld. It influenced my perception of all books. Fantasy was already my favourite genre prior to my discovery of Pratchett, but afterwards? I probably didn’t read any other genre (apart from for school) for at least a year. My fantasy intake has lessened since then, as other genres have fought for my time, but my identity as a reader will forever be rooted in fantasy, and to a lesser extent satire, thanks to the tale of an incompetent wizzard and his journey to the land of XXXX.

2003 (Age 17) The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami

My initial exposure to Haruki Murakami was not through reading any of his novels or short stories. In fact, I first became aware of him when I went on a high school field trip to see a dramatic adaptation of 3 entries in his collection of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes. The production put on by theatre company ‘Théâtre de Complicite’ at the Barbican Theatre in London, was absolutely mind-blowing. It remains the best piece of theatre that I’ve seen to this day. So, my interest in Murakami was piqued, and the following day I went to a book shop and bought a couple of his books, The Elephant Vanishes and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. While both are possibly worthy of a place on this list (for different reasons), it was The Elephant Vanishes that really influenced who I am as a reader now. It was this collection of short stories that really introduced me to this particular form of writing, which makes up so much of what I read nowadays, that enables authors to tell stories in so many ways that a regular novel cannot (As it happens, the only book currently in The Unseen Library with a 5-star rating is a collection of short stories, Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and others). Indeed, it is some of my favourite genres, science fiction and horror, that lend themselves particularly well to the form and, as such, I am indebted to Murakami and his mesmerizing collection.

2005 (Age 19) The Lurking Fear – H.P. Lovecraft

In theory, taking pleasure out of being ‘horrified’ seems incredibly contradictory. We should be turned off by that which horrifies us, yet horror is a genre that has remained popular throughout the centuries regardless of the medium through which the stories have been conveyed. Personally, I’ve been addicted to the thrill of being scared since I first saw Tim Curry play the role of Pennywise the dancing clown in the 1990 TV version of Stephen King’s IT. Despite this, however, I was never particularly drawn to read any horror until I picked up a mini collection of short stories by the infamous H.P. Lovecraft. Most of the collection was really enjoyable, but it was The Lurking Fear, the story of a monster-infested mansion in the Catskill mountains, that really sparked my love and appreciation of written horror. Lovecraft’s ability to tell such mesmerizing yet terrifying stories (short stories at that, thank you The Elephant Vanishes) is justifiably renowned, and it really opened up the horror genre (in literary form) for me. It has been the catalyst for many nights of peering over the top of books in paranoid fashion, forming notions of insidious and malevolent monsters in the shadows. Sure, such thrills aren’t for everyone. But in the words of Depeche Mode, I just can’t get enough.

2017 (Age 21) The Video Game Theory Reader – Mark Wolf

Why do you read? Asking this to a group of people would no doubt get a multitude of different answers. It can be a form of escapism, an exercise of our imaginations, or perhaps a path for self-development. Considering my own reading habits, with fantasy, science fiction, and horror being the genres that I tend to gravitate towards, a strong case could be made that reading is a way to satisfy my imagination. Now, if you were to ask those people who know me well, I’m confident they would say that I’m a glutton for knowledge. I can’t help but ask questions about everything that I come across, I love anything trivia related, and I have a penchant for googling everything that I’m unsure about (side note…I strongly believe that ‘googleable’ needs to become a legitimate word recognized by those who are in charge of adding words to the dictionary). Yet it was only when I was doing my undergraduate degree that I began reading for the purpose of knowledge attainment. Of course, reading serious academic texts is an essential part of any academic qualification. But reading Mark Wolf’s Video Game Theory Reader, as part of my research for a paper about interactive narratives, sparked a long-standing interest in reading for the purpose of developing my understanding of topics that were of interest to me.

I’d like to think that, at this point, you have a fairly good idea of who I am as a reader; my preferences, motivations, and habits. Of course, there are millions of books out there that I have yet to read and so it would be foolish to think that my reading identity has reached any sort of definitive stage. I’ve no doubt that my identity as The Librarian will continue to evolve as my tastes, attitudes, and experiences change, but for now I am happy with who I am.

– The Librarian

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