Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Muriel Spark Archive at the National Library of Scotland

In late 2003, the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, my library, was awarded a LSTA grant by the Illinois State Library to buy books to support the summer reading for the sophomore honor’s English class at Lyons Township High School. We received $3000 to buy novels by 40 plus authors on an approved list, including Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, E. M. Forster, Anne Tyler, and P. G. Wodehouse. We were able to purchase many of the titles in hardcover and paperback, and we set aside about a third of the grant to get titles in audiobooks on compact disc. My colleague Aaron Schmidt went to the honor’s classes to promote the collection, summer came, the students read, and the library retained a nice collection that filled many gaps that had appeared in the collection over the years.

Like many readers using our library, I noticed the audiobooks. Several dozen novels by great authors really improved the collection. Commuters and other listeners snapped them up. Among the titles I checked out during the spring and summer and listened to while I gardened and drove to work and washed the dishes were three by Muriel Spark. I had seen her name for years but had never read any of her books. I listened to The Bachelors and was very entertained. The story was so British and just when I thought I knew what was happening, the author twisted the story and something new was revealed. When I finished, I went back to the trough for more. Memento Mori was even better, and I enjoyed listening to Loitering with Intent immensely. I was able to get a lot of gardening work done while listening. I also read paperback editions of Girls of Slender Means and A Far Cry from Kensington.

Last week I saw that Muriel Spark is on a list of nominees for a new Booker Lifetime Award. I did not know that she was still living. The books I had read had mostly been written in the 1950s and 1960s and looked back to the period after World War II. At least I thought they had. Loitering with Intent was published in 1981. In 2004, Spark’s 22nd novel The Finishing School was published.

I wanted to know more about the author. I found she wrote an autobiography Curriculum Vitae, which I am checking out to read soon. Also I found the National Library of Scotland has a really nice website focusing on her career and its archive of her papers. Go to to find a profile of the author with selected photos. Along the bottom of each page of the profile are thumbnail links to selected links from the archives; book covers and handwritten notes are among the offerings.

Look at the website and then check out one of books. Maybe you’ll get hooked, too.

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