Book Review: Stuart Kells’ The Library is a love letter to literature

A leading Australian bibliophile goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book called The Library by Stuart Kells. This volume is a fascinating text that draws together Kells’ scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history. It’s an intriguing trip skipping through the history books and hearing about places that are so much more than a mere storeroom. For many people libraries possess a heart and soul and are a delightful sanctuary, a solace and comfort.

Kells begins by tracing the oral traditions of native tribes and how their members shared their stories and handed these down through the generations. From here, there were original methods to record and write things down. This was done on materials like tablets, the paper-like papyrus and codices made of animal skins. Fast forward through history and we would eventually get books as we know them- printed on a mass scale, made from paper and featuring illustrations. We would also get ones that were ultimately bound with covers to enable the book to be easily located.

This volume is meticulously researched and is full of interesting anecdotes and snapshots from history. Kells is obviously very passionate about books (no one will question his bibliophile status after reading this) and his joy and love is apparent to the reader. Kells’ enthusiasm is also something that can be shared by the reader as they come to learn so much and gain a new understanding of the value of books and literature. This is particularly important in this digital age when kindles, e-books and the internet pose a big threat to physical books and libraries.

This volume is also a celebration of different cultures. It cites examples of how libraries have influenced different people and how they have been used as the settings in films and novels. It includes delightful anecdotes like the story of writer, Jeanette Winterson hiding books under her mattress and on her person in order to read these on the loo because she was forbidden to read non-religious texts by her strict, Pentecostal step-mother. The Library even describes the lengths that some bibliophiles will go to in order to curate and create their own perfect library and to source that elusive or rare book. Heck, Kells even describes some threats to books like fire and water damage and insects like silverfish, bedbugs and book worms. Who would have thought?

The Library is ultimately an engaging and well-written volume by a knowledgeable expert and passionate fan of the subject matter. The result is almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them. The enjoyment and engagement is so palpable you can almost taste it and Kells proves to be the perfect guide through the subject matter and history, which ironically could have been lost were it not recorded in this faithful tome. You could consider The Library the good book, except that that one was already taken…

The Library is out now through Text Publishing