19 September 2013

The Armchair Library

Day 8: A place that exists only in your mind.


The armchair library is a really tall but compact space. It is hidden in the 'learning centre' at Francis Close Hall campus of the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham and only I have ever been there. I think there must be a God who made this for me.

The door is as tall as the ceiling. It is made of a thick dark wood with round brass handles on either side. I have to climb up a step to get in, and then sit on this enormous armchair and stretch to close the door behind me because no one is allowed find me. It is a secret and only I am supposed to be in there. The armchair library only has room for one, but I'll tell you about it anyway.

In front of me and behind me and beside me on either side are four walls stacked to the highest ceiling encasing spine after spine of titles of adventures and tragedies and horrors and comedies. What is it that makes them so wonderful? They are stories.

There is a fire somewhere. I can feel it, but I cannot see it. I have cushions and a blanket and slippers on my feet. There is room for a mug of tea or coffee or hot chocolate and underneath the chair is a stash of hula hoops and bananas and chocolate buttons in case I get hungry.

All my favourite books are here. From the first ones I read, like The Tiger Who Came to Tea and My Naughty Little Sister to The Babysitters Club and The Sleepover Club, to Jacqueline Wilson's entire collection and every Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket book ever written.

Then there are the books I read while I studied here, or attempted to. The ones that I loved - not many, because I began to read less and less as a student, and I became pickier and pickier, but there were some, like Atomised by Michel Houellebecq and a few Dave Eggers and the non-fictional ones like Quiet by Susan Cain and Wildmind by Natalie Goldberg.

Most are ones I have wanted to read forever but never have because there was always Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or emails or text messages or missed calls or job listings or assignment deadlines or exam revision.

The quietness is not awkward like when you are stuck in a lift with strangers or boring like when you are wide awake in the middle of the night or lonely when you are home alone and missing someone. There are no librarians lurking or other people looking at what I'm reading. Surrounding me are a thousand friends, families and lovers who want to talk to me. They can be the voices in my head. I can fall asleep with them, wake up to them, listen to them, smile and laugh and cry at their stories.

Someone in there is hurting, dying, being born, running away, changing their life, starting a new job, losing friends, lovers, family members, falling in love, making new friends, forgetting about others - all in my armchair library - and I am there with them.

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