Day 46 of 80 — Books

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I  have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be  my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 46: Books

Books are my anchor. They always have been. In my room I keep a box of “key books”, first on the rescue list in case of an emergency. I chose them carefully: a couple of novels, a couple of plays and that book I’ve had since before I can remember, a catalogue of absurdly brilliant inventions which reminds me of the power of imagination.

These books are the central ones, the most important but over the years many others have accompanied me. So when I need a refuge, a break, a safe place, I always turn to book-friendly places.

At first I had bookshops like the old Foyles in Charing Cross Road with its rusty Jazz café, or the 9 floors of Waterstones in Piccadilly. Then I moved to London permanently and found a permanent safe place: the London Library.

Tucked away in the corner of St James’s Square, this library is actually not one building but four. Between them, a complex network of stairs and corridors, like semi-secret passageways that will take years to explore.

The back stacks are a haven for book lovers: books from floor to ceiling as far as the eye can see. Scattered amongst them, single desks for lone writers. As for the others, more social researchers, they can chose between the Writers’ Room and the more old-fashioned grand Reading Room. 

Scholars, novelists, scriptwriters and other wandering minds from all over town cross paths here every day, in silence. This place is like a second home to them. Sometimes, they recognise one another, exchange a shy smile. 

And when they’re too tired to work they sit in one of the comfy chairs by the fireplace. They let their troubles dissolve into sleep quietly: napping is allowed at the London Library.

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