Libraries are popular. Not only brick and mortar ones, which are being expanded and enhanced every year almost everywhere. But also fictional libraries. Literary temples of the book.
There have been at least two different novels published under the same title, The Library of the Dead. Matt Haig’s Midnight Library was a Sunday Times Number 1 Bestseller for perhaps longer than a single book should. Phaedra Patrick’s Library of Lost and Found keeps us indoors, but running in circles. And the New York Times bestseller The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles takes the reader from occupied Paris to 80s Montana on a flying book carpet.
As one reviewer for one of these novels put it, it is a celebration of ‘the power of books and libraries to change people’s lives’. Choked with reality, breathing it through all our pores, embodied or virtual, craving it at every corner, we step into the libraries of our own making where we find, not unlike our medieval forebears, temples, arks, and treasure-houses stacked, not with Googlian information, but with the enduring wisdom of the past, the catalogue of human errata and the shattered desires and dreams of lost generations.
In Matt Haig’s Midnight Library, a young woman suddenly finds herself, like Dante, in a dark wood, about to embark on a quest of self-discovery. Unlike Dante’s Comedy, however, the journey is circular and brings the woman back to the Library of her mind for a renewed lesson-learned debriefing session. The Library is a vehicle but also an entrapment, the last redemptive chance of the self-absorbed mind. The library is a possibility held to up to each of us. Whether we decide to walk inside and pick up a book makes all the difference.