I made a mistake today. One of the areas of stock control we do in the library is the removal of older and damaged books from the shelves. The branch I work at is one of the smaller ones, but it is surprisingly busy. Its numbers are consistently on a par with much bigger libraries and so the books are well read, and often well thumbed.
We use a stats-based system for stock management that rotates books from where they aren’t as popular (in terms if the number of times they’re issued) to places that have high rates of issues for that subject, author or series. Other times we take older and tattier books off the shelves to make way for newer purchases.
If these older books are in very good condition, we send them to a storage location for rotation back out to public libraries as requested. Otherwise we remove them as stock and send them to the same place, marked as withdrawn. These are then either sold for resale through partner booksellers, or some to be pulped.
This isn’t a confession of sending things out incorrectly marked; though I have just remembered I didn’t leave crates out for collection in the morning. Instead it’s an acknowledgement that, even in what can feel a reassuringly organised and even sedate environment, there can still be rakes in the grass.
My mistake, while feeling grim, low and flat, was to pick up one of the novels and start reading. In this instance it was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It’s a book that a number of people, familiar with me and certain events, had warned me not to read – but caught up in the adventure of reading a new and exquisitely written piece, I forgot about that.
Reading the beginning, and the event that kicks the whole story off was shocking and left me physically shaking. I was lucky to be out of public view to be honest, because it took me totally by surprise. I carefully put it back in its crate, knowing a replacement was already on order, and finished filling in the routing slip.
Those simple words shook me and repelled me, but even in the middle of that visceral reaction I still can’t find a point of empathy with the people who felt that shooting up the Charlie Hebdo offices yesterday was in any way justified by any reaction they had to things published there.
The Lovely Bones has a horrific beginning, and some day I will steel myself to carry on reading it, but I can’t even begin to express my horror and disgust at what is happening in Paris right now. As a writer it sends chills down my spine. As a human being, I am far more appalled.