7 Books That Give Us Library Envy
The SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON’s treehouse, the hidden flowers of THE SECRET GARDEN, Pemberly’s portrait-filled halls in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE—I could list a hundred bookish settings I’ve used to furnish my daydreams. When not imagining myself between the pages of these stories, I would repeatedly rewind (on a VHS tape nonetheless) the scenes of first exploration in their film versions, wishing myself into each character’s footsteps and their expressions of awe.
But of all the literary walls to fancy yourself between, top of the list has to be the library in Disney’s animated “Beauty and the Beast.” With shelves filled with colorful spines, spiral staircases, and a massive fireplace to read by, the most wonderful element by far was its feeling of marvel and discovery (I can only hope the library in the live-action remake—in theaters March 17—is just as marvelous). If you share a fascination with libraries, you’ll find even more bibliophile inspiration in these titles.
1The Shadow of the Wind
Originally translated from Spanish, this heart-stopping novel about a fantastical library hasn't become one of the world's bestselling novels without reason. Set in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War, the story follows a young boy initiated into a secret society protecting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Each member is allowed to remove one book from the library and is charged with protecting it for life—a charge that becomes increasingly mysterious and dangerous as time goes on.
2The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Most librarians are bad-ass, but the librarians in this true story about mild-mannered archivists saving ancient Arabic texts from Al-Qaeda take the definition to a whole new level. In the 1980s, a young adventurous collector from the legendary city of Timbuktu tracked down and salvaged tens of thousands of manuscripts. But when Al-Qaeda imposed Sharia law in 2012, their safety was immediately threatened. This remarkable tale about how a band of academics smuggled volumes out from under militants is a triumphant illustration of the power of literature.
This historical fantasy debut from Elizabeth Kostova begins when a young woman discovers an ancient text in her father's library, along with a trove of yellowed letters seemingly about the man who inspired Dracula. Don't let the Bram Stoker influence fool you into thinking this is just a vampire story—Kostova blends gothic horror with a detective story and interspersed epistolaries to create a chilling historical adventure. Who doesn't love moonlit castles, family secrets, and searching for answers in stacks of books?
Twelve-year-old Bobby Nusku finds a book lover’s refuge when he befriends Val: single mother to disabled Rosa and weekend cleaner of a mobile library. Together they pile into the van for a madcap tour through the English countryside, devouring classics by Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry along the way.
The novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from Stephen King’s collection DIFFERENT SEASONS features crooked prison guards, heart-of-gold criminals, a daring escape, and enduring friendships under the most impossible of circumstances. When Andy Dufresne is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, he uses his time behind bars to change his fellow inmates’ perceptions on life, morality, and hope by petitioning the state for library books, revealing how literature and education can be a light in the darkest of times.
6The Thirteenth Tale
A gothic ghost story that delights with suspense and a puzzle-like narrative, THE THIRTEENTH TALE takes readers into the book-filled mansion of reclusive writer Ada Winter, who invites the bookish Margaret Lea to chronicle her life’s story on her deathbed. Notorious for lying to biographers, Ada offers Margaret a tragic history filled with mystery and secrets through which Margaret must decipher the truth, and in turn confront the darkness of her own past.
7The Time Traveler’s Wife
Henry DeTamble is a librarian with a genetic disorder that causes him to unexpectedly lose himself in time, disappearing and reappearing for brief windows in his future or past. When 20-year-old Clare arrives at Henry's Chicago library he has never laid eyes on her—but his future self has met Clare multiple times and she has loved him since she was a little girl. Niffenegger creates an unusual love story exploring how a bond can transcend time and space.