Our Readers’ Ideal Libraries

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Back when Shiny New Books was a quarterly, in early editions we had a competition to win ‘The Editors’ Picks’ – four books that caught the four editors’ attention that quarter. We picked a topic and invited our readers to contribute their ideas and views …

We couldn’t have chosen a better subject for our launch issue than asking readers to describe their ideal library. We had 34 delightful entries and they showed what a diverse lot we booklovers are – from the traditional to futuristic, quirky to minimalist. Luckily the four editors have equally diverse tastes, so our shortlist reflected the range of entries.

Each editor picked two entries for the shortlist, and then we drew a winner at random. We have a winner – first out of the hat was …

Cindi Brumpton

We’d like to thank everyone who entered and made our mouths water with such lovely visions. Here are the eight shortlisted ideal libraries …

Cindi Brumpton
OH!! My dream library would be an octagon shaped room with lovely high windows on two sides that would allow the room to be flooded with natural light. Another wall would have a roaring stone fireplace with a gorgeous red Rothko painting above. All other walls and nooks and crannies would have bookshelves, some of which would have glass doors, mostly filled with books and some sculptures and lovely memory photos. I would want a round table to write notes and do research and would have four captain chairs surrounding it with plushly stuffed seats! I would want a few two-seater chairs (plumply stuffed) near the windows, perfect for me to crawl into and read. I would need a small table beside the chair and a lamp too of course. The best part of my room will be the brass plate slot in a wall … through which each week newly published books immaculately arrive!

Curzon Tussaud
It begins with the thud of jiffy-bag on doormat as the postman delivers the book from the very top of my virtual wishlist, just seconds after I formulated the desire to read it. Off to the chair by the French windows overlooking the garden, cup in hand, to open the book, spread its pages and inhale deeply that magical smell. A quick glance at the Foreword or Afterword (save to read later?) then a flip through the pages to check the font and layout, and one or two taster sentences enjoyed (des amuses-oeuil, maybe), before the happy encounter with Chapter One…..

My favourite library. Come with me through the corridor to my library. Welcome into my bookroom first. There is one very large window, opening to Mount Fuji today. In the distance you can see Basho walking, his cypress hat standing out against the early morning sky. Tomorrow, Vincent van Gogh will be writing a letter at the blue table in the garden.

Yes please, do take your time. My books love to be looked at and caressed and read again. About the empty shelf on this wall here? That’s where I invite new books to take up residence.

Come through now to my reading room. I know, the white space is breath-taking. I will talk no more, let yourself be nourished by the poem projected on the wall;

‘And though I’m poisoned
choking on the small change

of human hope ,
daily beaten into me

look: I am still alive –
in fact, in bud.’

(from The Wishing Tree, Kathleen Jamie)

What poem it will be tomorrow? I don’t know, choices from my personal anthology appear at random.

Yes, there is only one book here, only what I am reading just now. It is enough.

Deborah Wroe
My perfect library would be a series of interlocking rooms, each appropriate for the genre I am reading: for example classics would be read in curtained off window seat with a view of the moorland, detective novels in a Baker Street study with a pea soup fog obscuring the view and sea coal burning on the hearth, children’s books would be enjoyed in a Victorian nursery with Nanny handing round hot buttered muffins, while science fiction would be sampled in a silver spaceship with Marvin the robot on hand.

Jill Stuart
When I was growing up I fantasised about living in a library. This developed in to imagining my town library converted in to my home. The librarian’s office became my bedroom, my modest needs catered for from the tea room and the wonderful, Carnegie library my living space. Last week I discovered the library in my town of origin is for sale for a modest 250k. Oh the temptation to sell all, move town and convert this gorgeous 1906 building in to the home of my childhood imagination.

Leigh Hood
My imaginary library would be a spacious room with a fireplace and dark wood. It would have high ceilings with floor to ceiling bookshelves on all walls that are available. On the floor as you enter would be a huge, worn rug in jewel tones, a couple of comfortable reading chairs pulled close to the fireplace and an overstuffed velvet sofa in a deep burgundy directly across from the chairs. There would be plush blankets on the chairs and couch and a mini fridge filled with San Pellegrino blood orange and Tito’s vodka. There would be a stash of Vosges chocolates readily accessible. There would a bathroom with a luxurious claw foot tub and scented bath salts and a tray to hold a book while soaking. There would be candles and incense and a soft, voluminous robe and cushioned slippers waiting. There would be marble topped end tables with reading lamps and a MacBook and iPads to facilitate research and purchase of new books. There would be no untouchable books in my collection, all would be available to be read and re-read. Yet, as you walk into my library you would feel a sense of reverence and slight thrill at standing in a room with thousands of different treasures, whole other lives, waiting to be experienced.

My library would have windows that faced south and stood from the floor to ceilings 14 feet tall. The other three walls would hold bookshelves of the same height in painted white wood – with ladders that run along floor rails and a little landing half-way up to the top and one spiral staircase in the northwest corner. It would smell of books…and coffee…and apples and have big overstuffed chairs in a soft floral print. It would be as quiet as a whisper, with a cat sitting in the sun on a cushion. My library houses all the classics, lots of out-of-print books, rare books, fun books, ‘how to” books, biographies, books I loved reading as a child, books I loved reading to my children, books treasured by people important to me. It would be filled with photographs of people I love in all kinds of frames and would be described with such words as “comfy” and “easy” and “welcoming.” The floors would have polished mahogany floors or something equally as slippery (because every now and then I think I’d like to “sock skate” when my second childhood took hold. It’s really such fun!) My library would always be the perfect temperature for comfort, but its vast windows would welcome stormy afternoons as well as glorious Spring mornings – so I could look up every now and then from what I was reading and see how good it all is. (And then, of course, I’d wake up and find it was all a lovely dream!)

Margaret Powling
My library would be a proper library, with not just the walls lined with shelves, but shelves at right angles to the walls, so books could be stored on both sides, forming little ‘bays’ of books, all in their right categories (i.e. my own filing method, not necessarily the Dewey system.) All the shelves would be pale wood, with carved ends. In the centre of the room, a large Oriental carpet on the polished oak floorboards, with a circular library table for spreading out the larger books or newspapers. Windows on the south side, floor to ceiling, all of them French windows opening onto a terrace – with pots of scarlet geraniums in summer – overlooking a lawn which sweeps down to a lake (complete with island and summerhouse, and boat to get there).

At one end of the room, centrally placed between the bookshelves, a magnificent fireplace with a couple of comfortable chairs, and low tables for cups and glasses. The shelves would reach 3/4 of the way up the walls, but the room would be high, so that on the tops of the shelves there would be room for an array of Oriental blue and white china. There would be reading lamps, and concealed lighting above the bookshelves, and a central chandelier above the library table. This would be a very grand room but one that would also be comfortable. And of course, my staff would keep it pristine!

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We hope you enjoyed taking part and reading the entries. This time, we’re asking you to nominate your favourite independent bookshop – and tell us why you love it. Leave your comments below or back on the Shiny New Books homepage.

Annabel, Harriet, Victoria and Simon