This fortnight I am cycling round all Leeds’ 36 public Libraries. The idea is to use the buzz around the Tour de France’s start in Leeds to promote library use to kids.
The main reason I am doing this tour is because Leeds Libraries intervened in my life several times and gave me extraordinary opportunities.
One of those things was how I was introduced to French Literature.
I can remember the first moment now. I had been to the Central Library looking for sports books. I’d found some and was idling in the fiction section on my way back to the counter.
And a book jumped out at me.
The Outsider by Albert Camus.
I liked three things about it. The author had an exotic name. It was very short. And, I was an outsider – i.e. an eighteen-year-old young man who thought he was an outsider.
I borrowed The Outsider and it blew my mind. I had never read anything like it. It didn’t say what was right or wrong. Not exactly. That astonished me.
I was back at the library the next week. I scanned the shelves for something with a title that spoke to me. With an exotic author name.
Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
It was a hard read for an inexperienced reader like me. But I was a jealous man. I was in my first long-term relationship and I was feverish with jealousy. The book’s repetitive obsessive rhythms gave me something. I’m not sure what. But it did.
The next visit to the library took me to the literature sections. I found a book on French fiction. I read some of it and understood even less of it. But I made a list of authors I wanted to read.
Zola. Celine. Maupassant. Sartre. Flaubert. To name a few.
I found them all on the shelves at Leeds Library. I became a lover of French fiction. I still am.
On another library visit – not long after that – I went to the travel section. I borrowed a book on France. I read about Rouen Cathedral and Flaubert. About Maupassant and boats heading up the Seine. Mediterranean beaches where you could murder a man. And Zola’s squalid Paris from L’Assomoir.
That was my Tour de French Fiction.
And it did became my Tour de France. I started to save up. All autumn, winter and spring. In the summer I went to France to visit those settings.
Without Leeds Library none of that would have happened. And a lot of other things that have happened to me since would not have happened either.
Allez les blues!