The only thing better than getting lost in a library? Reading a book about one, of course. Whether it’s the Library of Alexandria, the British Library, or your favorite local branch, libraries hold a special place in our hearts and imaginations as portals to all sorts of knowledge and different worlds. If books are a “uniquely portable magic,” as Stephen King says, then libraries are a wellspring of enchantment, places where our imaginations are given license to run free.
My upcoming book The Last Heir to Blackwood Library features a sprawling abbey on the windswept Yorkshire moors. When Ivy Radcliffe inherits the abbey in 1927, she arrives to find that there is a magnificent library kept under lock and key by the servants. It soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary library; the contents of the books seem to spill out into real life, and Ivy’s memory begins to fade with each passing day. Ivy will have to unravel the mystery that lurks at the center of the library if she is to have any chance of saving herself, as well as her beloved abbey. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then here some other books you might enjoy that feature fantastical libraries, cozy bookstores, and stories that pay homage to the magic of the written word.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Angel Aziraphael loves books. He loves them so much that although he is on earth to keep an eye on preventing the Apocalypse, he spends most of his time in his antiquarian bookshop in SoHo. What sort of books does an angel collect? Apparently, Bibles with humorous misprints, first editions of classics, and of course, books of magic and prophecies. But woe to anyone who goes into the shop expecting to buy a book, because Aziraphael employs all manner of dark looks, foul smells, and generally cultivates an unapproachable air to prevent customers from actually purchasing books. His reluctance to let books leave the shop probably rings true for every bibliophile who has at one time or another dreamed of running just such a shop as an excuse to house their massive book collection.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Ok, so the Bodleian Library isn’t fictional, but Harkness does put a magical spin on this famous library. Witch Diana Bishop discovers a lost manuscript that activates her dormant powers, as well as attracting the attention of other magical beings. A Discovery of Witches makes you want to get lost in the ancient stacks of the library, settle down with a book, and imagine all the magic that is just waiting to be released.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Addie LaRue makes a pact with the devil: eternal life with the caveat that she will never be remembered. But after centuries of being forgotten, Addie finally crosses paths with Henry, a young man who does remember her. This pivotal scene takes place in a bookshop in New York City, the workplace of the only person who will remember Addie. Schwab does a wonderful job painting this setting as cozy and welcoming, a refuge from the passage of time of which Addie is a victim. And while most of the narrative does not take place in a bookshop or library, books and the written word play an important role, with Henry ultimately publishing a book about Addy’s life which goes on to be read by millions of people.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A library of magic books squirreled away by a “practical” magician in York, England? Yes, please. While not the main focus of this sprawling novel, the library Clarke gives us is an irresistible setting that every introverted reader can relate to. With period literary references aplenty, this book is a decadent treat for bibliophiles who love a good splash of magic.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
On a visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (a secret library filled with rare and banned books), Daniel Sempere feels compelled to select the novel “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax. After becoming enraptured with the book and seeking more of Carax’s writing, Daniel discovers that no one knows what happened to the author and that other copies of work are essentially nonexistent. Daniel’s investigation draws him into a mystery that stretches across decades with both romantic and tragic consequences. Dark, but ultimately hopeful, this book is a beautiful treatise on the redemptive power of the written word.