I love libraries. All libraries; any library. I love them so much that I can’t believe that I sometimes forget that I love them. The library round the corner (sticky books; excited children on the computers) is still closed after the flood, so the biscuit and I walk to W and visit the ‘big’ library (plush colonial-style arm chairs; parlour palms). I don’t have long — the biscuit is somewhat surprised to wake up in the library & starts chatting away to the poetry shelves — but that makes my selection all the more deliciously random: the biography of RS Thomas (a poet who I’ve never read) recommended by Nicholas Lezard in last week’s Guardian Review; JM Coetzee’s latest collection of reviews and criticism, which I can remember Mark Sarvas enjoying; Sharon Olds’s Selected poems to dip into during my month of poems; and two for when I feel like I’m the only person in the world home alone with a baby: The yummy mummy’s survival guide and The new mum’s guide to sex (don’t even ask…). How much more eclectic could you get? (The librarian tells me that he wrote his Master’s thesis on Coetzee and Peter Carey, but tactfully ignores the post-partum sex aspect of things.)
When I get home I spread my haul out on the bed and flick through them one by one as I feed the biscuit. The thrill of coming home with a new stash of books takes me straight back to the tired-limbed feeling of the Thursday night post-swimming visits to the library of my childhood: wet-haired among the bookshelves, eye stinging. Will I read a biography of a poet I don’t know by a biographer I hadn’t even heard of until yesterday? The great thing is, it doesn’t even matter: I can dip in, skim through or ignore as the mood takes me. No commitment (financial/shelf-space) leads to the freedom to take as many reading risks as you dare and the possibility of endless serendipitous finds. And all this for free (well, apart from the £3.72 fine from the last lot & one of the highest council tax rates in the country) — what’s not to love?