Over the years I have envied family and friends who have been settled in one place and who have libraries shelved. Mine have travelled with me for years, most tucked away in boxes packed with moth balls. Over the last few months I have been slowly getting some floor to ceiling shelves built and a small library has started to come together, giving long denied ready access to those boxed books but also turning the room into its own art form.
Having a myriad of books with their variously decorated spines and covers makes for a patina that I find very pleasurable. My only regret is that the room is so small. Not because it will soon overflow with print but because a library, especially a personal one, should be shared. In New Jersey, Camden I believe, there is a restaurant called the Library. It’s an atmospheric place where you can order and eat large sizzling steaks, (and eat average salad) and do so surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of books. The best bookshops in London, Singapore, San Francisco and Sydney are the ones where you can put your feet up and graze food as well as words. (That is Winston Churchill’s turn of phrase by the way. When asked why he had such an impossibly large library, which he could never read his way through in a dozen life-times his retort was simply that books were to be grazed and he did so every day, taking books down at random, opening them to random places and reading a few pages). There is something communal about reading and eating, or simply sharing a conversation with one or the other as part of the recipe. Maybe those cold afternoons as a kid in the local library, when the librarian would light a fire and I would hunker down with some old story of Greek heroes, or avidly read about some striding tall cowboy come to rescue the dusty town from the evil cattle barons, was more formative than I knew at the time!
The bookshop at the top of this post is located in a 13th Century cathedral in the city of Maastricht (Holland). There are a collection of other photographs at the Coolhunter site which give a more expansive view of what has been accomplished in this space. The following image is that of the El Ateneo bookshop in Bueonos Aires, located in an old theatre. And the final image is that of the Livraria Lello bookshop in Porto (Portugal), an extravagant place built in 1906 with enough woodwork decoration to keep a family of carpenters in work for ages. You don’t see shopfitting like this anymore. Nor, sadly, will you see it in my library, where the occasional squeeze of builder’s bog and some paint is hiding all manner of miscalculated ills. But at least the books are out, are being grazed and their gathering dust is being done with some dignity.
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