Writers who found the door that opened to a wider world

Kate Mosse
Kate Mosse
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Playwrights, celebrated authors and at least two national treasures are fighting against library closures, here they explain why books matter.

Alan Bennett

“The most important library for me was the first one I went to, the dark and unprepossessing Armley Junior Library. I had just learned to read. I needed books. A child from a poor family is today in exactly the same boat, adding computers to that requirement maybe.

“When I was in the sixth form I used to do my homework in the Leeds Central Library on The Headrow. With its mixture of readers, excellent facilities and the knowledge there would always be someone working there whom I knew and who would come out for coffee, I found some of the pleasure in going to the reference library that, had I been less studious, I could have found in a pub.

“Remembering myself at 19, on leave from the army and calling up the copies of Horizon to get me through the general paper in the Oxford scholarship, I feel as much a debt to that library as I do to my school.”

Stephen Fry

“I grew up in the country, deep in the country. The nearest major library was a 12-mile bicycle ride into the city of Norwich. I was lucky to live in a house filled with books and to have parents who loved to read, but by the time I approached teen age my appetite for reading, combined with my more or less chronic insomnia, meant that I needed more, far more books to consume daily.

“Every other Thursday, a mobile library (in the form of a large grey pantechnicon that would today look absurdly old-fashioned) would come along and park not five minutes’ walk from our house. That was my lifeline to the outside world.”

Fry read the complete works of Oscar Wilde from cover to cover, several times over, and was then given The Trials Of Oscar Wilde by H Montgomery Hyde.

“It was a book that changed my life. The heroic lord of language who had captivated me so entirely turned out to have had a secret life... I shared the same secret.

“For a gay youth growing up in the early seventies a library was a way of showing that I was not alone... Some of the best, finest, truest, cleverest minds that had ever held a pen in their hands had been like me.”

Kate Mosse

“The brick and glass presence of libraries at the heart of our towns and cities gives the unequivocal message that books matter, that imagination matters, that the principles of free and fair access to literature and education to all matters.

“The most democratic of spaces, libraries are places where anyone – regardless of age or sex or background, their ambitions and opportunities (or lack of them) – is welcome on an equal basis and for free. Libraries are home to the readers of today and the writers of tomorrow.”

Kate Mosse is the author of best-selling novel Labyrinth.

Lionel Shriver

“I have never got over my starry-eyed astonishment at six years old, when I was allowed to waddle out of the Raleigh Public Library with a towering stack of books – Curious George, Dr Seuss, Babar – without my mother paying anyone a dime and we weren’t arrested.”

Lionel Shriver is the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Tom Holland

“As in life, so in a library – the great joy is discovering something you didn’t know that you wanted. One such find changed my life. When I was 21 – skint, depressed and semi-unemployed – I took to skulking around Kensington Library. One day, quite by chance, I found a book about the Greek world after Alexander the Great on a pile of recently returned books. My interest flared like a jet of gas meeting a match. It continues to blaze to this day.”

Tom Holland is an author and historian.

Val McDermid

“Libraries are doorways to possibility. They offer opportunities for people to go on voyages of the mind to destinations they’d never have encountered anywhere else.

“I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for the public library system. They fed my addiction to imagination and made it possible for me to dream. The library also held the keys to making my dreams a reality.”

Val McDermid is a best-selling crime writer.

Lucy Mangan

“I thought my dad was having me on when I was six or seven and he told me he was taking me to a building full of free books that I could take home, read and then return and swap them for more, forever.

“It seemed like a miracle and it still does. I am so grateful that it was – and remains – there, on the corner, silently enriching us all.”

Lucy Mangan is a columnist for the Guardian.