“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges
For today’s “W” post, I’m going to list my favorite libraries (or the place that books are never lonely, and all the words have home). I’ve often contemplated becoming a library rat, someone who sits like an unwanted roach, in the loveliest chair, in the back of a noiseless room (except for the characters breathing of course). I could sleep in the nooks on top of the shelves and run my fingers along the book spines until I fell asleep. It would be like reading braille I imagine, trying desperately before falling into a dream to figure out what the book title was by feeling over each letter of its’ crack. I love the peripheral vision stare of the librarian behind her computer, tapping her foot to a personal rhythm against her extra-high computer chair (almost a bar stool). I love the sneezes (which are usually mine) after people open a new book from the shelf because they liked the way the font looked on the book crack/spine (is there a less sleazy way of saying this? I love the idea that a book cover is like a body, to be felt, and caressed, and loved). I like the men who go in the libraries with their women and pick the comfiest reading corners, with shag-footrests (straight out of Beauty and the Beast) and they read sports, cars, or Maxim magazines and never look up, even as their partner is walking towards them carrying seven books with two more shoved in their purse.
Does anyone really need to elaborate on the smell of a room filled with books?
Not only does this library let you climb its’ swirling staircases to find books on the upper level hallways and shelves, but once you find those books, you can sit in the cozy corner of the tippy-top of a library and view all the readers below. You could throw an electric spitball from up there into someone’s chosen beverage. It may not be as immaculate as some of the other libraries around the world (including The Library of Congress), but it’s antique. When you feel the wood below your finger tips and you go to drop your bags off in a locker, only removing your favorite pen and spiral-notebook to take notes, you can feel that this is a part of history. It’s unique, and it’s antique.
I found this library with CK during a rain storm through alleyways of Cirqular Quay (pronounced circular key). We were on a bus that only went a few streets up and we neglected the umbrella his mother tried to force on us while quoting the weatherman’s words of the day. (She’s often right, the way most mother’s are). I had skateboarding sneakers on (even though I can only ride down driveways on my butt, at most), and my shoelaces were shoved into my sock so as not to get soaked. I also had a Rocko’s Modern Life baseball-tee on and resembled a beached lion. My hair was matted down onto my pale (not-yet-Australian-tanned skin) and my jeans had patches of water to my knees (not to mention stringed holes ranging from knee to thigh since that was fashionable and a little risqué. I like to live on the edge).
I squeaked walking across the large tiled floors of the library. If you were studying … forgive me for that day. According to the photos that I made CK take awkwardly across the wooden table, I also had a cold because there are tissues and crumpled lines of poems surrounding my head and books. The air conditioning was on blast, but I was comfortable sitting in the desk chairs staring at the ink blots turned language for a few hours. Plus, most of the books in the library were Australian so the words were spelled funny like, “favorite” was “favourite” and “color” was “colour.” And some words I didn’t even know at all, because even though the population thinks once you’re an English major you’re also a grammar and spelling Nazi, it’s just not true. I’m a parenthesis Nazi, a hyphen Nazi, but definitely not a there, their, they’re Nazi.
This is my favorite library because CK and I discovered it during a rainstorm (which is rare in Sydney) and I filled the middle pages of my mini-oh-so-writerly-notebook with quotes from my favorite female Australian poetesses. Plus, I just like the thought of holding pruney hands across a wood table, covering book pages of poetry and sport records. This might define the relationship: an uncomfortable moment of wetness, followed by fairytales and sports.
2. The Belconnen, ACT Library, Australia
This is my favorite library in the entire world. I don’t care about the ancient paintings of European libraries, or the Vatican’s personal library adorned in gold plated relics. I care about this tiny, hand-painted library attached to the Belconnen Community Center. When I went to Australia, I bought a nook because it would make traveling easier and I’d have all my books in one secure location, and yet as soon as I got there and realized right across the lake, through the path of kangeroos, the Uni bar and the closest Subway was a library, I probably walked there twice a week. I found my love of libraries that had been lost since probably second grade through this library. Right before you get there, you hit this patch of grass with a few dead trees and birds are always flitting around (sometimes birds attack in Australia so you have to be careful that they’re being flirty and not violent) and it’s like being in a Disney movie. Then, as you get closer, you walk through a concrete tunnel, filled with dead leaves and non-recycled cups and you think, what a dump, where am I? But then you see someone’s graffiti’d this elaborate green dragon across the entire right side of the tunnel. And its’ teeth are gnashing the wall. And it always made me feel like there were no boundaries in there. I used to walk home with my headphones on and sing out loud while I walked through, hearing my voice echo against the walls and my feet pat to the beat along the tunnel floor. CK and I also pushed our fair share of grocery carts through this tunnel and I usually didn’t pretend to be a Disney Princess in those moments, I just complained like I usually do about the Australian heat, and the lost art of pushing a grocery cart home a mile or two (with milk, mind you). Good thing for me, CK is full of pleasantness and knows how to avoid bikers.
I read my very first Australian Young Adult novels in that library. I sat on the floor in the back reading poetry by Larry Levis. I finished over twenty books checked out from there. I was introduced to the brash, and aggressive writing of Sonya Hartnett, whom I’m now obsessed with (among others like: Shaun Tan, Nikki Gemmell, John Marsden, and Kate Morton).
So, it has my heart, as does Canberra, Australia, Gloria Jean’s Australian Smoothies, Gelato, and Powderfinger.
3. The Library of Congress, Washington DC.
I went to DC with my lovely parental units and CK a few summers back and literally the only thing I really wanted to see was The Library of Congress. And being pleasant and non-partial, CK went with me. There was also a poster purchased by CK saying, “Libraries: For Those who Love Books” and had two people kissing in a book-stack. BAH! Dreamy! I’m pretty sure I took photos of literally every quote by every author in the room. I got a passport so I could scan it at every little stand and log in at home for the Congress Collection. I tried to sneak into the quiet rooms where I hoped to meet the current Poet Laureate because wouldn’t you think that he hung out at the Library of Congress and maybe slept below the tables, against the fancy-patterned carpet and inhaled the sweet breath of live book pages? Apparently not.
Plus, not only does this building hold countless books filled with US tradition, history, and maybe even conspiracy theories if you believe Nicholas Cage, but the pictures within the archives are unbelievable. I wish I could be that smelly, pale, mustached old man who sits in the bottomless basement of that library guarding the collections of secret, mysterious photos and books. I will have to grow some balls, and some facial hair, but I can get the job done, no doubt. Maybe I’ll get lucky and develop a gut so they seriously consider picking me for that position. I will live with pale skin and Ben Franklin-esque glasses (to see all the book pages) and spend the rest of my life happily reading the secrets of the American Heritage. You think I’m jokin’….
Lucky for us, the Library of Congress has a photostream located here. Take some time to check out the world before you came along. It’s ornate, and it’s a masterpiece and I’ve never in my life been somewhere so full of magic and fairytale’s than that building.
4. North Carolina State University, DH Hill.
I went to college here, so I’m bias. I also have danced among these book stacks to some Michael Buble. This was on my list of things to do before graduating. I wore heels and made people look up from their homework, essay papers and quantum physics assignments to see who would wear heels throughout a whole brick campus and up an eight-story library to pick out books. I love this library because most of the NCSU student body doesn’t even know the excitement within. It’s a typical library where you are shushed, or given the death-stare for blowing your nose. But it has delicacies like fine dining. For instance, on the top floor, it has every Time Magazine since the 1940’s. So you can look at old advertisements, or what was popular in women’s fashion, or what new inventions were coming about. There are drawings of old cars and women’s horse racing hats and excitement over inventions like the curling iron. So much history in one bookshelf, and so much anti-anything-but-rich-white-baptist-men advertisements. Plus, it’s in the middle of the whole student population. In the NCSU brickyard, students have had raves, snowball fights, yelled back at traveling preachers full of injustice and ignorance about their Bible, raised money for charities, pet cows, bought used books and had flash mobs. There’s even a webcam that’s on all day that CK’s parents saw us from in the comfort of their own home, all the way in Australia. I’ve watched French movies in our mini-theater. I’ve watched student’s eyes outline in purple rings from studying for too many engineering tests. I’ve feared getting stuck in the elevators (it’s like being in that movie by the guy with the crazy name em-night-sham-a-lot’s, Devil. I’ve made eye contact in those elevators as well, even though it’s elevator etiquette to not look at anyone you don’t know in the elevator. Final though on this library, The Church of Whitman Poetry Group was started here, and that is enough for it to always be one of my favorite libraries.
And that pretty much sums up my four favorites. I love libraries that I can walk too, and escape from the cold in the air into a good book on the floor. I love when they have history, or they do showcases, or have poetry readings and story-time for children.
But the thing I love most is living in a world where stories can live amongst and within people, both invisible and right before your eyes.