We’re asking all writers we interview At the Auckland festival about libraries and what they mean to them. When I put the question to Commonwealth Writers’ Prize best book winner Christos Tsiolkas, he said that wandering the shelves at libraries saved his life.
“In the sense that, it was through the public libraries that …
His eyes look down as the sentence trails away, but he opens up his life to explain:
“In my early adolescence I was not a very happy young man, dealing with issues of sexuality, dislocation – I’d gone from a heavily migrant school to a quite Anglo, what we call skip in Australia, school. I felt quite displaced.
“I used to escape both to the library at school, but also to the public library near my home and just wander the shelves. I picked up everything. I spent hours in the film section and got introduced to the writings of Pauline Kael, the writings of Jim Agee – and then I would go and discover literature.
“That’s one of the things about the space of a library. You can go and do that wandering. There’s something about the solidity of the space and the communality of the space is really important to me.
Tsiolkas also sees the value of libraries as a place for community.
“I love that you see the young students – a lot of them are Muslims, because it’s a heavily Arab area where I live, but they may be Vietnamese, the may be Anglo, they may be Greek . They’re using the computers and you realise not every home has that access that a lot of us take for granted.
“You see old men reading the newspapers in their community language, you see young kids wandering the shelves like I did and picking up ideas and picking up new discoveries – that’s exciting.”
Even in the digital age, libraries have an important role, he says.
“You can do that kind of searching on the internet, but you can’t do it in that communal way that the public library represents. In an incredibly globalised, rationalised world it’s a kind of a small miracle that we hold on to them. It’s important that we do.”
A full interview with Christos Tsiolkas will be published in the near future. In the meantime, tell us if libraries have saved your life, and how, by posting a comment :-))