I can remember my first ever author event: it was at the William Patrick library in Kirkintilloch, and Mairi Hedderwick was reading from Katie Morag. As a child, meeting an author and illustrator in the flesh was magical: to my four-year-old mind, there was no one more impressive.
Fast forward to 2018: I took the same well-thumbed copy to the Edinburgh Book Festival, where I met Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela. I thought they might like to meet a mischievous Scottish child around their age, especially visiting the country for the first time. Tucked away from the buzz of the festival, there was something special about sharing the story together.
As I child , I vividly remember weekend library visits and maxing out my library card (ten books allowed at a time – the struggle of only picking ten!). I devoured as many as I could – my parents’ admiration soon turned to complaints of “you’re not finished that already, have you?” I’m grateful to libraries for feeding my addiction, as I don’t think my family could have afforded to keep up with my appetite.
In high school, we shadowed the Carnegie Medal, and I remember feeling as important as any judge, even if my preferred book didn't win. When school was over, I returned to the local library – a free, quiet space to do homework. I always felt safest surrounded by books, encased by knowledge and new worlds yet undiscovered. During my English Literature undergrad, I spent more time in the library than any other building, wandering around the silent stacks and finding secrets in tomes that hadn't been stamped out since before I was born.
I associate certain books with different times in my life, sort of how people have memory recall with certain scents. I first read Jane Eyre when I was 16 and remember passing the paperback to my gran to read afterwards. I still have the same copy, the spine cracked with age and use, and even though my gran is no longer with us, the memory of us sharing the story will stay with the book on my shelf.
My love of reading has brought me to Scottish Book Trust, and one of the perks of being an office of book worms is there’s always a book being passed around. Thanks to colleagues I had plenty of material to keep me occupied during lockdown, including Tiny Moons, A Year of Eating in Shanghai by Nina Mingya Powles; Loveless by Alice Oseman and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. At a time when travel was forbidden, the only holiday existed through books. Reading not only offers comfort during stressful situations, but it also improves your mental health. Research has shown that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60 per cent – a worthwhile investment.
This year, Scottish Book Trust is marking ten years of Book Week Scotland – an annual, national celebration of reading and writing. It feels even more of a milestone after months of closed libraries and bookshops: doors are once again open to the public, and authors and readers can mingle out with the limits of zoom.
Libraries are the beating heart of Book Week Scotland – without their hard work, hundreds of events simply would not happen. This year, we asked the public to share memories of their favourite libraries via social media with the #ILoveMyLibrary. The anecdotes have flooded in – from borrowing LPs in the 70s to that familiar childhood smell of old books and beanbag chairs. When asked about libraries, The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins said, “My local library was a complete lifeline”.
In a new film for Book Week Scotland, Denise Mina explains that thanks to a crime writing course ran by Glasgow Women’s Library, she was able to finish her award-winning novel Garnethill and get it published. Many novels have been read, but also written, in libraries across Scotland.
All week, the public have been plotting books on our Reading Map. It showcases that we truly are a nation of readers: from Meditations by Marcus Aurelias in Orkney to Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon in Dumfries and Galloway. There is a kaleidoscope of genres: contemporary fiction is the most popular choice, followed by crime and biographies. Over 20 per cent of readers reported borrowing a book from a library, proving what an essential public service they are, removing barriers from those who cannot access or afford books.
As Book Week Scotland draws to a close, there are still many ways to join in the celebrations. Try the ‘Book Shop’ role playing game, created by Adrian Barber and played by Val McDermid, Hari Conner, Kieron Gillen and Marjorie Liu. Browse our playlist poems, curated by Cat Hepburn, Courtney Stoddart, Harry Josephine Giles and Nadine Aisha Jassat. But the best way to join Book Week Scotland is to pop to your local library or visit your nearest bookshop. Browse the colourful spines and pluck out a book that takes your fancy. Find somewhere cosy, sit back, and relax. And when you’ve finished – share the story with someone else.
Visit bookweekscotland.com for more information and to rewatch digital events
Keara Donnachie, is PR and Marketing Manager at Book Week Scotland