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We've written about the library before. In fact, not long ago, I wrote a story about the library and its design, while talking about Safeco Plaza, but, much to my surprise (because, you can forget what you've written about, sometimes), I've never featured the library for this column.
It's the third library to occupy this spot, squared in between Madison and Spring, and 4th and 5th. There once was a grand old Carnagie Library on the spot, built in 1906. It was demolished in 1957, and a new library, in the International Style, was opened in 1960.
The Rem Koolhaus design of the new library was shown in 1999, with our current incarnation opening in 2004. Does the building feel thirteen years old to you? I can remember visiting it, the first time, and it seemed new and fresh. Now, children born the same day it opened its doors are going through puberty, and have never known our city without it.
Sometimes, I visit the library and climb all the way (I never take the elevator) to the topmost floor, to the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room, otherwise known as the finest secular cathedral in the world. When I'm finished, I walk down the spiral. It's so satisfying to step on those rubber mats, the Dewey Decimal classification numbers inlaid in in white Futura bold on a black background.
Then, just slip into a stack at a random place, and look around. You're in the books, and who knows what you might find? It may just be something amazing, something with a story, something you could do to pull off the shelf and lose a little time with Maybe you'll find some stories there?
Philosophy & theory; international languages: We are unknown to ourselves. These men break up with each other in the library stacks. Arguing quietly, one who was always embarrassed by the simpleness of the other, the second who was always embarrassed by the way the first put on airs. One grabs Thus Spoke Zarathustra and shoves it at the other. "Here, work on becoming an Ubermensch". The second grabs The Gay Science and says "Here, study at this, and go fuck yourself."
Geometry: "Thales of Miletus," she said to her brother. "Who?" — "Thales of Miletus! You don't know about him?" — "Should I?" — "Uh, yeah, dummy. He calculated the heights of the pyramids." — "Uh, so what?" — "He was rich because he predicted the weather and went hard on olives one year." — "Why did you bring me here?" — "We're gonna get a book about geometry!" — "I hate you" — "you won't when I get you into college. You're gonna love Thales of Miletus. He's the bomb."
Mammalia (Mammals): He walked down four aisles, eyes half closed, counting down from one hundred, dragging his finger across the books. While he walked, he counted steps in rounds of four, so that the two patterns of numbers moved in different cycles, one of tens and one of fours. When he reached zero, his finger was resting on a book on the third shelf, but he ended his step on a two, so he went directly down one, and pulled out a book on whales. He looked at the time (3:19pm), and then went for three groups of nineteen pages, and rested his finger on a sentence that told him that the average blue whale penis was seven to ten feet long.
Food & drink: She couldn't find the recipe. Maybe it was because of the boys running crazy. They wouldn't stay downstairs in the children's area, not without her, so she had to bring them up in the stacks. Now they were running circles around the row of shelves, where she stood, looking through the cookbook her grandmother used to keep on her shelf, trying to find that one thing she wanted to make for the holidays, all the while, the boys screamed and ran.
American poetry in English: It was a quest to write a villanelle. It started with a promise to look nothing up on the Internet for the entire month of December. Then, a friend challenged her to a poetry writing contest, and she had one week to deliver a form she had never heard of. Only one way to find out...