Poverty Safari. Darren McGarvey

4 stars for this excellent, emotionally driven look at the effects of systemic poverty, that is also an unflinching account of the writer’s difficult childhood. There is a sense that Darren McGarvey’s views are evolving even during the writing of Poverty Safari, which adds to its urgency and means that there are contradictions through the text. Anger, resentment, compassion, care, wit and a blistering honesty fire up and propel the narrative, wrenching similar emotions from the reader.

How to feel about a book that talks about the need to examine and challenge our dearly-held assumptions on politics and those seen as ‘other’ yet excoriates ‘these types'(ch 20) whether those allegedly living in ‘a parallel reality where ‘twibbons’, safety-pins, free-hugs, Huffington Post think-pieces, Tumblr blogs and gender-neutral gingerbread products are all that’s needed to resolve a crisis’ (ch 21) or ‘one hyperventilating Guardian subscriber after the other’ (ch 21)? How to feel when McGarvey discusses within the book’s introduction the ‘endurance test’ of reading for enjoyment and his tactic of reading ‘bite-size portions to feign that I had read the book in its entirety’ yet his chapter headings are deliberately chosen from literature (Wuthering Heights, The Naked Ape etc)? I felt disorientated, infuriated and invigorated.

I am slightly disappointed in McGarvey’s writing on libraries as I don’t see any signs that he consulted library users or librarians. I wholeheartedly agree with him about the need for quiet spaces – most if not all library services are aware of this problem and are trying to find a solution to balance needs (perhaps advertising ‘quiet times’, although that raises the question of how these are to be enforced, or at least advertising when noisy Bookbug sessions etc will be held). But imagine if Bookbug sessions, reading groups and so on were to be evicted from libraries to community centres. How then do libraries begin to address ‘the fact that less people use libraries’ (ch 22) – how do they encourage people through the door? People who go to a library initially to access a group or session are surely more likely to visit to access other library benefits than those who have no experience of a library. If social groups are to be taboo so that people have a quiet space, how are other users’ needs met? Lonely people who come to the library for a chat, parents with young children who might be noisy – how welcoming a space will they find a library to be in these circumstances? And surely McGarvey at least welcomes the early intervention ethos of free rhyme and reading sessions for babies and toddlers which aim to improve literacy for all, and can see obvious reasons why the library is an ideal location for these?

In contrast, I found myself nodding along to McGarvey’s writing on the bureaucratic hoops local groups must jump through – I would add the example of credit unions, which could once have been run from someone’s kitchen but are now subject to the same legislation as building societies, requiring too much of small groups of local volunteers no matter how dedicated.

I think the length of my review indicates how much Poverty Safari has resonated with me, provoked me and riled me. It is not a perfect read but it is a vital one that demands a response from the reader. I eagerly await Darren McGarvey’s next book.

I received this ebook free from NetGalley in return for an honest review. Publication in the UK by Luath Press, 2 November 2017.



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