Ever Longed to Sleep Surrounded by Books? in This Library, You Can
Every bibliophile’s dream come true.
Perhaps some people hold onto the habit of reading before sleeping. Going to bed with a book is a ritual that takes us to other worlds, those outside the mind. It’s a doubly favorable state, first of tranquility, and then of dreams. Anyone who’s read In Search of Lost Time will remember that everything begins with this same habit, recurrent since the childhood of the narrator. When he falls asleep while reading, into that wonderful sleep of the first moments of a dream, that in which we don’t really know in which world we find ourselves, whether it be consciousness or fantasy, and when the images of what we’ve just read appear before our eyes.
The habit, though, can be brought to another end, too. Those who go to bed reading have daydreams about the possibility of making their rooms into libraries, that is, to sleep surrounded by books, as if these books were at once the guardians and the charmers, of dreams.
Such a fantasy is possible, if not forever, at least for a few nights at the Gladstone Library, in Hawarden, Wales. Here, rooms are fully equipped for sleeping on the edge of the impressive and well stocked shelves.
Although access is public now, the library originally belonged to one William Ewart Gladstone, a prominent politician of the Victorian era and four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Over the course of his life, Gladstone gathered a collection of more than 30,000 books on virtually all subjects, with a notable slant toward theology, history, politics and literature. In 1894, Gladstone himself decided to open the library to the public, especially those in his vicinity who couldn’t afford to buy books.
Notably, in a gesture related to his generosity, one day in 1895, at 85 years of age and in the company of only his daughter and his valet, Gladstone personally oversaw the removal of the almost 32 thousand volumes from his private residence. These went into the library building to ensure the collection’s consolidation as one for the public.
The collection today exceeds 250,000 titles and it’s still set up to receive casual and regular visitors. Its “residential” character has been a constant since its opening in 1904, but in the last ten or 15 years the library has gained special popularity as a place where it is literally possible to live among the books. Writers and researchers have used the library as a “working retreat.” And from time to time, literary festivals are also organized with the possibility of lodging included. The library administration has even established a program to host a “writer in residence.”
For all of these purposes, the Gladstone Library holds 26 comfortably equipped rooms and offers a dining service, all of which contribute to the feeling of home, and all amidst a huge collection of books.
If sleeping literally surrounded by books, or just knowing what it feels like to spend a night in the library, have ever been among your own fantasies, now you know where your dream can come true.
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