Reading Heroes: Fiona Elder

Fiona Elder, reading hero
Category: Reading

During Book Week Scotland, we asked people to nominate those in their lives who showed a special dedication to books and reading. Nominations poured in from all over the country, and from those we chose three Reading Heroes: A Most Committed Reader, Most Inspiring Reader, and Most Inspiring Teen Reader. But all of the nominees were so interesting, we set out to learn more about them. Today we speak to Fiona Elder, a Library Assistant at Dundee Central Library. 

Who nominated you?

Kevin McGinley, a Library and Information Worker based in Central Library, Dundee.

Have you always been a reader?

My Mum and Dad raised me in a very small house with a huge number of books. They started reading Winnie-the-Pooh to me when I was two, and books have been pivotal to my life ever since, so first I was a listener, then I became a reader.

Tell us a bit about what you like to read.

Oh, so many...

I will read anything once, including lists of ingredients on medicine packets. I have in my time gone through phases – the studenty Virginia Woolf phase, the earnest Graham Green phase, and even (in my extreme youth) the deeply symbolic Lewis Grassic Gibbon phase.

For books that I would be prepared to read over and over again, it has to be Golden Age detective fiction! Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh... I also love the updated versions of nice, clean murders – Nicola Upson, Jill Paton Walsh, Jacqueline Winspear. My current can’t-miss detectives are Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May: history, folklore, excitement and crazy eccentric elderly men.

I will always love Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, Terry Pratchett – but my all-time favourite author is the unfashionable John Buchan.

Basically, the best books are where stuff happens and there is a proper resolution by the end of the final chapter. It doesn’t matter how good the literary style, if nothing’s happening I’m gone by chapter four.

Why is reading important to you?

5,000 years ago people sat round fires and listened to stories that put their lives into perspective, and entertained them, and explained the moral framework for the world they inhabited. I love the thought that we still sit at our fires and try to understand the world around us through the stories we read.

My parents took me to Lochee Library as soon as I was old enough to join, and I was able to work my way through entire series of books for free!

Reading fiction has introduced me to new ideas and lifestyles other than my own – worlds I’ll never inhabit, all vivid inside my head. Brilliant!

Also, reading non-fiction definitely helps on quiz night

What’s your opinion on reading in the bath?

My spectacles steam up, so... no.

What’s your guiltiest reading pleasure?

TV science fiction tie-ins. (Particularly Stargate Atlantis)

Which author or fictional character would you most like to go to a party with?

Do I have to go to a party? If so, then E M Delafield’s Provincial Lady – she would see the humour in every situation, she is a magnet for insignificant but entertaining misunderstandings, and she’d be polite enough not to abandon me for someone more interesting!

Have you ever pretended to have read a book to impress someone?

If that’s the only way to impress them, we probably wouldn’t have a lot in common!

How do you arrange your bookshelf?

Bookshelf singular... seriously?! I don’t think I know anyone with only one bookshelf. Even before I worked in a library I arranged my shelves with adult fiction by author surname, non-fiction by subject – sad, isn’t it? I also have a special shelf for library books so that I don’t forget to return them. Secretly, I’d like to try arranging my books by colour because it would look so pretty, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

What’s the most over-rated book of all time?

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.

If you could throw a book at a celebrity which book would you throw at whom?

How to Win Friends and Influence People at Frankie Boyle.

Have you ever borrowed a book from a friend and “forgotten” to give it back on purpose?

Certainly not! How could anyone enjoy reading a book that they had stolen?

Is there a book you have never been able to finish?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and believe me, I have tried!

When did you first realise that you loved reading?

When Miss McMichael, my infant school headmistress, told me that The Broons and Oor Wullie counted as reading. (I have since progressed to Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield!)

Do you think a book or reading can change someone’s life?

Oh yes! All the knowledge of all the world is contained in books. Books can explain facts and expand horizons. If life seems bad, take yourself into someone else’s world for a few hours! When you come back to your own life you will have a different perspective on your problems.

Is there one particular book that you continually recommend to people?

Greenmantle by John Buchan.


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