This summer I have unwittingly taken part in a Book Treasure Hunt spanning four counties within the Netherlands and England. Most of you will have heard of the phenomenon, Little Free Library which I believe started in the US with the aim of raising interest in literature in areas that don’t have easy access to a library. The Dutch version is Mini-bieb.
As a spin off, all sorts of neighbourhood initiatives have sprung up across the globe; ranging from the very informal (books left randomly on top of the paper recycling container, or on the plinth of a public statue), to the lovingly painted boxes filled with curated books.
Where I found the treasure and a review of the books:
- Tilney All Saints Church, Norfolk
I like the serendipitous approach to choosing a book which Little Free Libraries can give. I read two new writers this year, Val McDermid and Nicci French. Val McDermid creates a maniacal but exceedingly clever serial killer in ‘Mermaids Singing.’ The book’s protagonists, DI Carol Jordan and criminal profiler, Tony Hill are a likeable odd couple. McDermid’s book must have involved her researching medieval torture methods so if you like a dark and at times gory read this might be for you. Rather ironic to find a book about a demonic character in a Christian building. The denouement was quite frankly silly though, and I saw it coming a mile off so although I liked the build up and the characters, a poor ending left me deflated so I can’t give it more than 3 out of 5 stars
2. Phone box, Little Dewchurch, Hereford.
My absolute favourite LFL which I came across this year, was this red telephone box. Lovingly restored and furnished with shelves of books in great, pre-loved condition; an innovative way of upcycling an otherwise redundant monument that used to be at the very heart of the community. Here I found, Nicci French’s, ‘In the Land of the Living’ which I haven’t finished yet but the author has succeeded in creating tension without resorting to blood and gore. A tight, psychological thriller which has had me gripped throughout. Rakker the dog was pleased about this on Wednesday afternoon because I was very still for a couple of hours while I read, so that meant a stable and comfy lap for him. Book heading towards a 4 out of 5 methinks.
3. Shopping Centre Maredijk, Leiden
‘Dead Cert’, by Dick Francis was pure nostalgia as this was the first grown-up book I read which wasn’t on the school curriculum. My sister, Christine Hardinge worked for National Hunt trainer, Michael Scudamore for many years and so Francis, the jockey-turned-author, was a popular read in our home. Even though it was predictable, because I’d read it before, Francis creates a great sense of place and his insider knowledge of the racing world gives his writing authority. After the author’s death it turned out that Mary Francis, his wife, was his ghost-writer; a very clever undercover cooperation in which the former schoolteacher, Mary (reputedly scared of horses) wrote the exceedingly masculine thrillers on behalf of her husband. Francis novels are a brilliant, easy read for racing and non-racing fans alike. The first time I read, ‘Dead Cert’ I loved it and as an inexperienced reader of thrillers, I didn’t see any of the twists coming so for pure nostalgic reasons I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
4. Pancake Restaurant Stroop, Amsterdam
That leads me neatly onto Nicci Gerrard’s, ‘Huis van Herinneringen,’ (direct translation, house of memories) translated from English title, ‘The Twilight Hour’. The main character is Eleanor, a 94- year-old lady who is sorting through her possessions before moving into a nursing home. In an attempt to burn her secrets, she almost sets the house on fire. But then Eleanor’s grandson steps in to help her go through her old letters and photos. As the story unfolds a passionate and impossible romance that decided the fate of many lives is revealed. My mum-in-law read this in just a few days and she said it was brilliant. So on behalf of my mum-in-law, I’m giving it 5 out of 5. Will read this one after, ‘Land of the Living.’
So I hope I have inspired you to give Little Free Libraries a go and perhaps you will even set up your own informal book swap in your neighbourhood. It’s definitely on my to-do list!