Being in London is a heady experience, and whenever I return to Brighton after a visit, I feel slightly dazed. London seems like a distant dream, something that happens in books or to other people. I’m always slightly incredulous when I find myself in the bustle of Central London. How did this happen? Weren’t all those buildings just supposed to be in the background on the BBC, and not real, almost breathing structures in front of my disbelieving eyes?
So I return to Brighton slightly spoilt by visions of a quite surreal life, but settle down quickly enough. You cannot not love Brighton, especially on a bright, sunny morning. You don’t see much of the highly polished self-consciousness of London, but there are enough happy people around, dressed in quirky or normal clothes, but all very relaxed. They could probably make it to the covers of fashion magazines without having to be photoshopped into “shape” to suit the rigid definitions that distant world seems to live by. Brighton undeniably has many beautiful people, and on a sunshiny day, they show themselves off to their best advantage, tanned and toned to perfection without appearing hassled. And for those who don’t care a whit about clothes and fashion, it is still the perfect place to be in.
This Sunday afternoon, I am supposed to pick up a book at the library- a copy of Margo Lanagan’s latest novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island. I have been in love with her writing ever since I read Black Juice, an intriguing collection of short stories, dark and evocative. The library is always a very inviting place, of course, but today it seems quite magical. It must be the sunshine. After days of relentless rain, barring a couple of odd dry spells, the sun has come out in its entire glory only today. It throws rectangular patterns on the green carpeted steps of the library, filling the whole building with light and a delightful airiness that seems to have been brought on by the dismissal of the grey clouds. Coffee dregs cling to the inside of various cups, giving off that odour that can be unmistakably associated with long nights and assignments. It is stale but not unpleasant, for it belongs to the library in its own way, much like musty, mottled books and cobwebs. These libraries are modern and clean, however, with none of the trappings of a secondhand bookshop or an ignored attic.
That doesn’t lessen their attraction in any way. If I were to pick up what I’ve come for and walk straight out, I’d feel like a paid assassin carrying out a commission. I have to wander around, despite knowing full well that I cannot afford to take any other book out because I need to spend most of my time on dissertation reading. The travel section is beguiling, but I firmly ignore its advances. A bit of vacillating follows, but a new-found determination (brought on by a pressing deadline) wins in the end. Only Margo Lanagan today. Somerset Maugham can wait.
There is something enchanting about being in the library, in knowing that all these people with furrowed brows at the tables have given up the alluring sunshine to read instead. They have eschewed the beach and the streets washed golden-yellow for the reassuring presence of bookshelves. But then reading can also be inspired by the weather- how often have I wanted to read MR James on a cold, rainy night! If there is a book waiting to be read, nothing else really matters.
Which is why I love reading on the Tube. It is almost a sacred activity I perform dutifully on every visit to London. I rarely ever travel out without a book in my bag, and I really enjoy reading on the train. For the past two days, on buses and trains, I’ve been reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, an apt choice perhaps but totally unintentional. It belongs to the “unputdownable” category, which worries me slightly, but as I race towards the halfway mark, I think I’ll use it as bait to make myself work harder on my dissertation.
In the meantime, the weather can help things by going back to normal- rainy and grey- and saving the summer for the Olympics.