I am a self-confessed bibliophile. I love everything there is about books, and the older the book is, the better it is, in my book – tragically weak pun intended. There is something utterly alluring about cracking open a well-worn tome – the aroma, the feel of the fragile pages, the yellowing paper. It adds to the enjoyment of the book itself, wondering how many people from bygone ages have turned those pages and savoured those words. One of my major concerns when moving to a new town is how to pack and transport my ever-growing library of second-hand books. One of the first things I do when I get settled in a new town is to locate the nearest second-hand bookshop so I can add to my library. Each move becomes a little bit more cumbersome than the last, as you can imagine.
This weekend, I found myself in New Haven, Connecticut; home to Yale University and their famed Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. How could I resist? I went along not knowing quite what to expect, and was bowled over by this incredible gem of a library. From the outside it is a gleaming, chequered, rectangular building of translucent marble.
Walk through the doors, however, and the gleaming facade becomes a distant memory. The marble that shines so brightly from the outside takes on a delicious brownish hue inside the building, transmitting the faintest of light devoid of damaging rays that could harm the delicate pages of the rarest of books.
And there, right in the centre of this dimly glowing building, is a glass-encased tower of stacked book shelves, towering impossibly high above your head, reaching right up to the ceiling.
Shelves and shelves of the most tantalising books, the majority leather-bound, some brightly embossed, some dulled with age, all beautiful.
On the upper level, some books were singled out for special attention; the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon’s The Birds of America amongst them. In the eerie half-light, the books almost seemed to be levitating mid-air. It was magical.
As luck would have it, there was a ‘Remembering Shakespeare’ exhibit on display, telling the story of how Shakespeare came to be remembered as the most venerated author of all time.
Another exhibit piece that caught my eye was a set of playing cards from 1930s London, using Dickens’ best-loved characters as their theme.
As I was on my way out, I stopped to chat with security, and asked them which lucky people got to snuffle through all those incredible books. They told me, to my delight, that anyone can read the books there, provided you supply a driver’s license, or a passport if you’re from overseas. Their catalogue of books is available online. That service is only available from Monday to Friday, however, so I shall have to return mid-week at some point and crack open a well-worn tome or two.