“Study week” is the official term for the nebulous time period that might better be called “hang out in the library week.” Studying comes and goes—library navigation is eternal. Instead of spending my time working, I figured I’d play a little game, a little creative writing experiment, of which you are now reading. How many different ways can I describe the library and all its concourses and steeples, crypts and catacombs, piazzas and breezeways? How many ways can I orchestrate a map that one could follow to safety or to doom—or worse, the U.S. Government documents stacks! Additionally, I could not have written this without Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, from which this article’s entire form—senseless rambling—takes inspiration.
- Entering there and proceeding for two days towards the east you reach the arcade, an upside down well with many little windows which spill golden light like a harmony of silent faucet spouts. You’ve probably had such an experience if you’ve felt like a tiny speck in a large room when looking up to some gargantuan windows. But there’s a special quality to the light when it’s Sunday morning and you’re hungover but have nonetheless made it here before noon. All the multicolored glass panes shine down on you and you’re no longer a little squab who needs to write an essay but a glorious being made of pure light. You look to the high strung stained glass windows and think for a moment that they might be portals into a utopia called “post-essay,” you feel as if you could float up to them and dance in their sweet colors. A little voice cries “ooh!,” and a loud chatter of whooshing and banging pulls you from apotheosis, you look around you and realize your bag has split open and all your things have scattered across the slip-and-slide floor. All you can think about now is how you wish to retreat into the synthetic underworld of the ground floor catacombs so that you can feed on the buzzing white lamps and never see natural light again. Oh how the white cubicles call your name, you can even scratch little messages on the walls and tally the years you’ve spent in your little white tomb writing an essay about an author even more ancient than you.
- Six paces up the stairs. Pass through scantron-no-stealing-books machine. Traverse main lobby, approximately 15 paces. 90-degree turn, clockwise. Two paces forward. Descend staircase, twelve declinations. Grab door handle, bring arm to torso. Walk through the door, regardless of what might exist in your fore. If you feel glass, adjust three feet left, then three feet right. Once through the door, 90-degree turn, clockwise. Eight paces forward. Make sure the French literature is directly ahead. 90-degree turn, counterclockwise. Proceed down the hall, 20 paces. You should have arrived at a crossroads. 90-degree turn, counterclockwise. Six paces forward. 90-degree turn, counterclockwise. Third shelf from the bottom, halfway across. Blue spine, 13 inches long. It’s a book called “The Historie of Serpents. Or, The Fecond Booke of Liuing Creatures.” It’s a reprint of a book published in London in 1608. It’s awesome. Trust me.
- There is a promised land here. I have heard of it from seafarers, aerial circumnavigators, sorcerers and metaphysical philosophers. A great room of sun, the loudest goddamn place in the library, a room with weirdly comfortable wooden chairs, I will sleep on these couches if I must—it comes with many fantastical descriptions. I have only been there in a dream, and even then the dream was crowded with other people dreaming, so I had to turn around and make for the art library. Although I have heard many great things about this room, today someone told me of something that haunts the paradise place they call “the sun room.” Half hidden by a wall of pure steel stands a great shelf devoted to the history of totalitarianism. A specter is haunting the sunroom. Four dozen biographies of Mao stand ready to sweep away the bourgeois leisure of so-called paradise in the sun room.
I could do more but I really gotta work, man. Next year, for better or for worse, I will certainly be exploring this place more.
You should really read Alberto Manguel’s “The Library at Night” … but maybe after exams 😀