In my living room there are two large bookcases, each one eight feet tall, and they have about five hundred books between them. If I step up to a shelf and look at the books one by one, I can remember something about each. As a historian once said, some stare at me reproachfully, grumbling that I have never read them. One may remind me vaguely of a time when I was interested in romantic novels. An old college text will elicit a pang of unhappiness about studying. Each book has its character, and even books I know very well also have this kind of wordless flavor. Now if I step back from the shelf and look quickly across both bookcases I speed up that same process a hundredfold. Impressions wash across my awareness. But each book still looks back in its own way, answering the rude brevity of my gaze, calling faintly to me out of the corner of my eye. At that speed many books remain wrapped in the shadows of my awareness-I know I have looked past them and I know they are there, but I refuse to call them to mind.
Before I had a chance to feel too sorry for myself, I turned toward the front of the cabin and found the bookcases carved right into the wall. Hundreds of leather-bound volumes rested in dim alcoves. I had no idea what stories or information they held. It didn't matter. I wanted to absorb anything they had to say.
What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed.
My living room has an oak-wood floor, Persian carpets, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, a large ficus and large fern, a fireplace with a group of photographs and drawings over it, a glass-top coffee table with a bowl of dried pomegranates on it, and sofas and chairs covered in off-white linen.
It was a common complaint amongst the Arts students that their library was in dire need of refurbishment. To call the old building shabby chic was being kind. It didn't have automated stacks or self-service machines like the Management and Sciences library the other side of campus and the carpets and bookcases looked like they were probably the Victorian originals. But on days like this one, where the springtime sunshine streamed in through the high windows and set the dust motes dancing, Harriet sincerely felt that those BSc lot could stuff their vending machines and state of the art study pods. The Old Library was clearly suited for those who had poetry in their souls, rather than numbers in their heads.
Being ill when you are a child or growing up is such an enchanted interlude! The outside world, the world of free time in the yard or the garden or on the street, is only a distant murmmur in the sickroom. Inside, a whole world of characters and stories proliferate out of the books you read. The fever that weakens your perception as it sharpens your imagination turns the sickroom into something new, both familiar and strange; monsters come grinning out of the patterns on the curtains and the carpet, and chairs, tables, bookcases and wardrobes burst out of their normal shapes and become mountains and buildings and ships you can almost touch although they're far away. Through the long hours of the night you have the Church clock for company and the rumble of the occasional passing car that throws it's headlights across the walls and ceilings. These are hours without sleep, which is not to say they're sleepless, because on the contrary, they're not about lack of anything, they are rich and full. Desires, memories, fears, passions form labryinths in which we lose and find then lose ourselves again. They are hours where anything is possible, good or bad.