The Joy of Spines, National Library of Scotland, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Graeme Hawley.
Graeme Hawley (writer).
Graeme Hawley
Running time

If you have been interested in anything, ever, you will find it here.

This Festival Fringe presentation takes us on a tour of the 120 miles of shelving that store the National Library of Scotland’s collection of 24 million things.

Luckily our tour guide is both General Collections Manager at the Library and also a performance poet. With 360 photographs he shares with us The Joy of Spines.

Starting appropriately enough with an image of a red book spine with the gold embossed word “Joy”, he tells us that funnily enough he is not a great reader. And the image is, of course, of a book entitled “Funnily Enough”. He has no shortage of material to build on as he divulges a love of books on concrete.

Detail is to be found everywhere, the cover of a book of children’s verse has captured the library being constructed. You just have to know where to look.

And that’s where abstracts come in, indexes of where things are that predate our ability to search texts digitally. One surprise is that books are stored together by size, not by subject. This sets up some apt and not so apt neighbours. “The Power of Positive Thinking” nestles up to “Why Men Fail”. And different takes on seemingly similar subjects “Happy India”/ “Unhappy India” / ”Mother India” / ”Father India”.

The images roll on over the bewildering selection. A Book about Books; A Pamphlet about Pamphlets. To the seemingly bizarre “Brush Your Teeth with Wine”. We are treated to a found poem on childcare born from yet more spines.

This is about collecting for tomorrow. Not only the landmark items like the Guttenberg Bible, where print first made its mark, but with history being made now. Ephemera and items costing pennies that are being produced for the sheer love of it. Keep things long enough and they grow in value. A magazine that might have been read in a hairdressers 40 years ago now provides information for gender studies. A crisp packet might in the future reveal the state of the nation.

There is love, passion and romance in all of this, all human nature is here. Why look for life beyond earth when there is so much wonder here, and it’s all written by people like us. The person who wrote four volumes on “Radiation Curing in Polymer Science and Technology” was once a child, eating birthday cake and playing with toys. If it were all to be destroyed it would be recreated, such is our desire to share.

An uplifting, humorous, rambling and possibly never ending story.

Show Times: 22 – 26 August 2016 at 2.00pm.

Tickets: Free.

Suitability: U