I'm not going to write much. This speech by Philip Pullman gives you the wider picture in a far more knowledgeable and intelligent manner than I ever could.
However, I do want to share a memory.
It was one of those Summer days that measured out, as only a childhood Summer day could. i.e. it was YEARS long. The window was open and I distinctly remember thinking that there couldn't possibly be a better occasion, weatherwise. I felt like Goldilocks. The breeze and the sunshine warmth were 'jusssssssssst right.' Dust bunnies danced in the sheaves of rays, like they were at the best day-time disco. Can you describe sun rays as being 'sheaved'? I'm not sure, but they felt like they were, since they sort of fanned out evenly, as if they had a paperclip on top. I sunbathed in my room. I love sunbathing inside. Outside, the light always seems to hurt my eyes too much, and I can't stand how sunglasses alter colours.
We'd just decorated my room and laid a new carpet and the bare floor was as comfy as grass is always described (but never actually IS!) There was nothing in my room apart from me, the sun, a packet of Tutti-frutti's and a cassette player.
I'd just discovered Norton Juster's, 'The Phantom Tollbooth' and was completely in love. Not only with the characters and the story, but also with the audio narrator's rich, slow drawl.
It was the first time I remember appreciating that a non-illustrated story could be AS full and as encompassing. Juster's tale was perfectly bundled and matched by its' production and the world they'd conjured came completely alive for me. I still remember it came in one of those hardbacked, 2 cassette cases that always smelt of the place they'd be stored; in this case it was The Hornsey Library. It had a yellow cover, and a picture I thought highly uninteresting. I'd got it out because it'd been from the library. At the library you didn't have to spend your pocket money or beg to a parent. You could take risks. And some paid off SUPREMELY.
I've been searching for a copy of that audio book ever since. I don't think it exists anymore. I've only once, in all my life, seen any format of, 'The Phantom Tollbooth,' on a bookseller's shelf. I did finally concede defeat in my audio search and bought a copy in paperback a couple of years back. It was nerve-wracking opening up that first page. Would I ruin my perfect memory?
As luck would have it, unlike many of the things I remember from childhood, this stood the test of time. It's a BRILLIANT book. One that's inspired me along the way, first as a memory and then as a re-read. I've loaned out to many of my adult friends, who have loved it equally.
So, thank you, Mr Juster, and thank YOU, local library. You both served me well.
And incidentally, the only time I saw it on a bookseller's shelf was last year. I ordered it into Waterstones, whilst I worked there. Though not the same edition, this copy also had an old-fashioned cover and an author no one was familiar with. It didn't sell well. Some books are meant to be discovered, I think, and this was one. Too bad there won't be so many opportunities for this kind of serendipitous happenstance in years to come.
Wander down to your local library today and take out a few books. Dig out something new and shiny, but also something dark and dusty. You never know, you might find a gem or two.