Wednesday, September 24, 2014


The wonderful thing about New York, aside from an amazing literary history that can be found in the haunts of all the authors that have walked the streets of this thriving metropolis, is that the city has amazing institutes where the works of these great authors are housed. I'm talking about libraries folks! Now, because you are just visiting New York do not think this rules out libraries. Yes, you do have to live there and have a library card to check out books, but that doesn't mean you can't check out the buildings (and the gift shops)! New York City has some of the most beautiful and iconic libraries in the world. Of course there are the more functional and drab libraries, but the main branch, it is truly worthy of it's title as the third largest library in the world. The great edifice is located at 5th Avenue and West 42nd Street, where it is guarded over by Patience and Fortitude, the great lions that any bibliophile should recognize, have they been to New York or not, I mean just look at this month's themed banner.  

But you know what the best part about libraries is? Unlike almost every other location I have mentioned you get to enter and not stand outside imagining what the interior is like! Though I bet the lions would keep you company if you were to remain outside. The entrance hall is that worthy of a grand mansion. While the main hall doesn't have that much natural light, the candelabras give you a sense of entering another world. The hush throughout the building is uncanny. The first time I went to this library it was bucketing down outside and despite being soaking wet and having squeaky shoes I was compelled to walk silently, no matter how hard that feat was.

One thing I do regret about my visit was that I was a little too worried to disturb others to look at some of the amazing reading rooms. If you are quiet and polite, I don't think anyone is going to mind. This is the Rose Main Reading Room. This room is almost two city blocks long and brilliant murals line the ceiling of the most heavenly of skies. Here too you are walking in the steps of great authors. Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Bishop, and E.L. Doctorow have all worked under this painted sky.

What I love most about this edifice is that this kind of detail and grandeur is usually more associated with seats of government, like my State Capital, yet here it is all for knowledge and books! This ceiling is the McGraw Rotunda (though ironically rectangular in shape). Edward Laning did this amazing series of murals as part of the WPA initiative. The concept is The Story of the Recorded Word, from Moses descending with the ten commandments, to Gutenberg showing his famous bible. But overhead Prometheus brings to mankind fire and knowledge stolen from the gods, for which he would be eternally punished. But it still makes a great mural!

The holy grail among libraries in New York though has to be the Morgan Library. The Morgan Library is located at 225 Madison Avenue, between East 36th and 37th Street. This was originally built as the private library of J.P. Morgan, but is now a museum. This is the number one place I want to visit in New York. For the span of years in which I was more frequently visiting New York the library was closed due to a huge renovation project, but thankfully it is now open. What I find amazing is just the number of original manuscripts housed here. Manuscripts that you would think would be elsewhere, like three Gutenberg Bibles, Shelley's notebook, Balzac's works! But then it never does to have preconceptions of where things should be, I should know better then to think Shelley's notebook is somewhere in Italy where he tragically died, after all, who would think all of Tolkien's manuscripts are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? And yes, I have seen them.

I love looking at the "Old Tyme" pictures in black and white before the restoration. This is the library as it was when Doctorow wrote about it in Ragtime. There is something that makes me think of Citizen Kane with the large and opulent fireplace and just the piles and piles of books. At least they are stored nicer then in all those crates in Xanadu.

But what do I really think when I see pictures of this library? Well, my opinion is twofold. One is, OMG the Library from Beauty and the Beast is real. Two is, why won't someone give me a library like this? I mean, in all seriousness, I don't have to have all the original manuscripts, I mean that would be nice... but just to have a place like this? Dream come true! I could easily fit all my books in there and have room for tons more! Like literally, the books could weigh a ton and I'd still have enough space!

And if ever the main room was too opulent and I wanted to slum it a little, there's the "Red Room." All Victorian and lush. Why aren't we building libraries like this anymore? Yes, I know that there are still beautiful libraries being built, but none have that steeped in feeling of history and the gravitas of these two examples. And the best part? These are but two examples! New York has so many other libraries to explore you could spend your entire trip there just going from library to library. Sneaking into the Cooper Hewitt not to see the Design Museum but to go to the gift shop which used to be Andrew Carnegie's library that overlooked Central Park. Little gems like this are out there for you to find and I hope that one day you get the chance to find them!


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