Tuesday 12 July 2022

I dream of ... a library


I was recently doing a writing exercise about things I hoped and dreamed about when I was a child and how I felt about those hopes and dreams now. One dream was that I wanted to be a writer. Tick, done that. I dreamed of having a dog. Yup, done that, and I was right – it’s the best. I dreamed of owning a huge gothic house with a morning room and a drawing room and secret passages and servants’ quarters and many bedrooms called things like ‘the rose room’ and ‘the lilac room’. I don’t think that would suit me particularly now – too much cleaning, too many decisions about decorating and I bet the plumbing would be no good. Oh how the practicality of middle age stomps upon the fantasies of childhood!

One dream I held onto longer than most was the dream of having a library. You know, one of those that you see in movies, with books around every wall and a library ladder (I adored the scene in Bednobs and Broomsticks when Miss Price is up the library ladder looking for a particular magic book and the guy – forget his name – is pushing her around and singing). I was entranced by the idea of floor to ceiling bookshelves packed with books, ideally all hardback because if you could, why wouldn’t you? There’d be big comfortable chairs everywhere, the kind you can curl up in, one by a wide light window at one end and another by a grand fireplace. A sofa too, long enough to lie down on, not too firm. There’d be a table or a desk. Nowadays, I’d have to add in good reading lights all over the place, of course. I loved it when I visited grand houses open to the public and went into a library where books with leather covers and gold writing were housed behind glass doors. Yes, I thought. That’s the dream.

And now? I have a lot of books in my house. Being surrounded by books makes me comfortable. When we first moved here, for years some of my books were in boxes and I can honestly say that I never felt more at home than when at last we had enough bookshelves for all my books. There are bookshelves in every room here apart from the bathrooms. Some of the books I have had for a long time. Some are just passing through. When I finish reading a book, sometimes I find a place for it on the shelf, sometimes I put it straight in a bag for charity. It’s not necessarily about whether I’m going to read it again or whether I’m going to lend it to anyone. I keep books because they’re beautiful, because they were given to me by particular people, because I think they have some kind of importance, because they’re part of a set. If the decision’s not clearcut, I keep them. They may go in a cull later on.

A cull? Yes. In an ideal world, my bookshelves would not be packed floor to ceiling. There’d be a little room here and there, a space to welcome more. And to achieve that, not only do I give away the books I’m not going to read again, but I also have to be ruthless about weeding. It’s those ones I wasn’t sure about in the first place that go first, along with the ones my husband hasn’t actually thought about (he wants to keep everything, as though our bookshelves were infinitely expanding). Then I have to think about the rest. Sometimes something I’ve kept for years suddenly becomes dispensable. Occasionally I discover a space where I can fit new bookshelves and then, for a while, all the books can breathe and settle because there’ll be no need to cull for a while.

So would I like to have a library? Yes. I love the idea of a big room – both light and cosy – where I would be surrounded by books. It would be full of books I value for one reason or another and I would know just where to lay my hands on any particular book. But they wouldn’t be packed tight; there would always be space for more. The more I think about it, the more I think that it wouldn’t just be a library, this room. It would have to be my living room because why would you want to go anywhere else? (Do I put a TV in this fantasy library? Depends on how many other rooms I’ve got in the fantasy house.)

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1 comment:

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