“Human beings can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”
– Saul Bellow, in “Him with His Foot in His Mouth”, from Him with His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984)
I once made an acquaintance with a man who had the most amazing library. It wasn’t the biggest library I had even seen – just several shelves lined up side-by-side, in fact – but it had every book I wanted to read or thought I should read someday. Every classic that ought to be in one’s library was there. It was as well-selected and tasteful as I dream my library should be, but isn’t (yet).
But time, unfortunately, was short. I found myself jumping from classic novel to classic novel, reading the first chapter of each before going on to the next. If I had had the time, I certainly could’ve lost my life in those shelves. Instead, I ended up cramming as many snatches of ‘great literature’ from as many different authors as possible. The first chapter of Brave New World, of Atlas Shrugged, of The Great Divorce, and on and on… I may never finish pick up any of these books again, and certainly have not read enough of them to decide if they should be counted as ‘great literature’ or not. But I discovered the thrill a great library can give you.
What about you – what is the most amazing library you have set foot in?
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7 responses to “Oh, Libraries!”
A couple of candidates spring to mind: there was this rare book collection in the original Rutherford library at the U of A. More recently, the library at Instituto Ricardo Brennand in Recife. They have tons of interesting historical stuff.
I love Rutherford Library, but I have yet to look in their rare book collection. And I’d love to see the libraries in Recife – I haven’t had a chance yet when I was there!
That painting you choose to illustrate your article is on the cover of my copy of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” That’s random, I know 🙂
Oh btw, the French word for “bookworm” is “rat de bibliothèque” – library rat ! We use “bibliothèque” to describe a public library or a private collection, and “librairie” to describe a bookshop.
Anyway, I love libraries. They’re my favorite place to be. I don’t really care how good they look but I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the Shakespeare & Co library/bookshop in Paris. It’s just so cozy, and perfect, and everywhere you look there are books, books, books. You can even sleep there, if you’re willing to make your bed in the morning, help out in the bookshop and read a book a day 😉
Neat! I liked the painting a lot when I found it.
I do remember the word “bibliothèque” from my long ago French class, mostly because it’s such a neat word. English is the backwards language once again here, because French, Spanish and Portuguese all use “librairie/librería/livraria” to mean bookstore, when we use a similar-looking word to mean “library.” I don’t know how we decided on our vocabulary sometimes 🙂
Shakespeare & Co. bookshop sounds like a wonderful place, and now that I know about it (and that you can sleep there!) I will have to check it out if I ever find myself in Paris again.
You must know how much this entry delights the soul of your librarian aunty. I must admit that I always have outstanding library fines but I cheerfully pay them all for the enormous pleasure of having access to the books and music available there. A wonderful book on libraries is titled The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel – well-worth the time to read.
I must admit, I do rack up the library fines once in a while too 🙂
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