Paper, solitude and the London Library

I love paper. In fact it's a little bit sad how much I love it. Books, notebooks, wrapping paper, loose leaf letter paper, brochures, museum booklets, postcards, index cards. You name it, I'm a sucker for it. Paperchase is one of my favourite shops and if you've never been to the huge one on Tottenham Court Road, then I urge to go there now. Right now. Or maybe just after you've read the rest of this.


This is not a new phenomenon. I wasn't a big fan of school and suffered severe bouts of back-to-schoolitis come start of term. Nevertheless, one of my favourite things was going into WH Smith in late August and buying myself a brand new pad of A4 notepaper. I'd usually get a new ring-binder file as well, but it was the paper I loved. I liked wide ruled best - narrow ruled just seemed too cramped, like it wasn't giving me enough space to express myself, to squeeze out my usually very random thoughts.


This slightly unhealthy obsession with paper is one of the reasons why I joined The London Library. I'd worked round the corner from the library for about eight years but never realised it was there, tucked away as it is in one corner of St James's Square. The revelation was akin to how I imagine Harry Potter felt on discovering Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross, and the first question that sprang to mind was how on Earth had anyone squeezed 16 miles of books inside this tiny, unassuming facade? It was this question that led me to take one of their Monday night tours but it was the smell of paper that made me stay.


I swear they pipe it in there, like the smell of bread as you walk into a supermarket. Every time I walk up and down the aisles (inevitably lost, but always happy) I get this odd fluttering sensation down my spine. You know that feeling that life could go in any direction in the next few minutes and that you're totally in charge of that decision? That's how I feel standing in the back stacks of The London Library, with the metal floors that clang as you walk along them.


The London Library 003?


If this weren't all lovely enough, I'm almost always alone in my aisle, which just adds to the headiness. You're probably thinking crazy lady, what are you on about? But I don't think I'm the only one who feels like this - why else are all the individual desks that are secreted in the library's darkest nooks and crannies always the first to go?


I love that feeling of being totally and utterly alone. I'm not saying I'd always want to be tout seul, but in the few moments where it's just me, myself and I, I feel like I could be anyone I wanted. The only expectations are the ones I place on myself. There is something blissfully terrifying about that.


Inside those stacks, I am a blank canvas ready to be filled with words - thousands upon thousands of words, all secreted within pages grown crisp with age. Some people love the smell of babies after a bath, some the smell of cut grass. What can I say, my weakness is paper.


It's why I loved WH Smith A4 pads, why I still buy Paperchase notebooks like they're going out of fashion and why if you're ever in The London Library you might just find this strange woman just standing in the middle of the aisle, breathing.



Photography by: Christopher Simon Sykes, courtesy of The London Library