Saturday, January 30, 2010

Too Much Happiness

"The college library was a high beautiful space, designed and built and paid for by people who believed that those who sat at the long tables before open books – even those who were hungover, sleepy, resentful, and uncomprehending – should have space above them, panels of dark gleaming wood around them, high windows bordered with Latin admonitions, through which to look at the sky. For a few years before they went into schoolteaching or business or began to rear children, they should have that. And now it was my turn and I should have it too."

The quote is from Wenlock Edge, a story in Alice Munro's newest collection, Too Much Happiness. Throughout her career Munro's typical protagonist is a yearning, working-class child whose life is transformed (if not necessarily improved) by higher education. These characters read like myself to me, so it is only natural that I tend to find them exceptionally moving. Pictured above is the main reading room of Doe Library at UC Berkeley – where I arrived many years ago like any other Munro farm kid propelled from behind by a scholarship. In the same building a more intimate refuge was likewise available in the Morrison Room (below) – a dedicated space intended for pleasure-reading rather than paper-writing. I admired both rooms equally and divided my time between them back in those "few years" before I left the university for an adult job. The fact that my own adult job turned out to be in a university library can – it goes without saying – be traced directly back to the allure of these two rooms.