Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Reveries of libraries, the fifteenth : PRIVATE LIVES

Philip Harvey

Sitting down in the front carriage, instead of drawing book from bag, I gaze at the start-up passing scene. Words can wait. Scene is set. Train makes speed. Early morning commute reveals anew, as sunlight turns shadow to colour, hillsides and valleys and flatlands of libraries. It has never been so evident the entire metropolitan area is covered with streets of libraries.

Miles of Melbourne come into view covered with libraries. Everywhere I look, their soothing shelves, their shady half-lives. Windows race by and through them glimpses of libraries. Patios with a pile of coffee tables. Sheds replete with masses of novels. Crannies for bargains no one throws away. Passageways of so-random bibliographical order. Bedrooms of favourite reading. Closets where everything good is stored until next time, fermenting. The view is rife with implications. Avenues of publications rise to the blue hills and beyond.

Most every house is collections of books and magazines, big and small, telling us more about the occupants than their kitchen utensils or brand of television. Their car is less a sign of personality than the scale and character of their personal library.

The stately plump buckram of the hidebound antiquarian. The artful perfectionism of the Folio Society subscriber. The tremendous delirium of the academic specialist. The ramshackle rafters abrim for weekend etymologists. The hardback heaven of the seasoned traditionalist. The obsessive right-stuff of the buff. Glimpse of their years of passion pass the gaze of the peak-hour express.

The whole metropolitan area is one vast arrangement of libraries. Buildings are being constructed this morning, even as I absorb the panorama, that will in turn act as personal libraries for their occupants. I think ahead to garages lined with phased-out magazines and computer manuals. Sunrooms edged with gardening guides and quotes books. Kitchens with their handful within arm’s reach of floury cookbooks. Children’s plastic bath books kept in a tub.

A domestic arrangement lacking books might scarcely be called domestic. How can one live without something to pull from a shelf at the right moment? Hidey holes of precious heirlooms. The crystal cabinet of gothic gloom. The habit-forming stretches of Penguin parades. The only reality of the walled-in fiction aficionado. The Australia-wide collection of dot-painting art books, best curtained from the sun.

It is unlikely most people think of themselves as librarians, though most everyone has unstated attitudes about the libraries they build out of papery nothing. Their makeshift attempts at homemade cataloguing are abandoned in favour of more reading. Neat stacks build near the door for return to the local. There is something on a ledge I snatch on the way out to read on the train.

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