The best library in the world

My Grandma’s house is not so much a house as a library.

Her incredible life in Rome, Paris, London, New York, Tripoli and Nigeria and a career at the BBC and the UN have all culminated in the most incredible collection of books. Fluent in English, French and Italian, there are hundreds of dusty old books hidden away that I couldn’t even begin to understand, dating as far back as the early 19th century.

Unfortunately, my wonderful, adoring Grandma passed away last summer at the grand old age of 91. I was very close with her, and loved to hear her stories about the amazing life she led (‘did I ever tell you about the time I met Marlon Brando?’). When she died, I was heartbroken that I wouldn’t get to hear any more of these stories.

How wrong I was.

Luckily for me, my Grandma was a bit of a hoarder. Going through her house and sorting through her incredible collection of dresses, furniture and items from around the world has been just like sitting and listening to her stories (‘did I ever tell you about the time I crashed in the Libyan desert?’). Apart from the suitcases filled with hundreds of letters written to her father, sister and husband throughout her life and travels, which I’m sure I will spend years reading through, she left behind around 2000 books.

My Grandma was overjoyed when she discovered I loved to read, and even more so when I chose to study English Literature at University. As well as her stories (‘did I ever tell you about the time I interviewed Toti Del Monte? Didn’t care for her’) we would spend hours talking about books, which authors annoyed her (most of them) and which ones she had met (also most of them). Going through all of these books was an absolute joy for me, although one undeniably tinged with sadness. My dad and I set about cataloging the hundreds of dusty old paperbacks and beautiful Folios, finding first editions and exciting inscriptions dotted around amongst the shelves.

Despite my parents’ desperate pleas of ‘we can’t possibly keep them all’, I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of any (except sharing some with other family members). Suffice it to say, I now have a very long reading list.

I love seeing the books people have collected and choose to display on their walls – it says so much about a person. Next time you are visiting a friend or relative, take a moment to look at their bookshelves.

Credit: Becca Lazar
Credit: Becca Lazar

Currently reading: E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Although I am still in the early chapters, some of the commentaries on racial prejudice still resonate today. With the formidable rise of UKIP and rhetoric of hate and fear directed towards other races and cultures, the upcoming election will undoubtedly define the progression or regression of racial attitudes in the UK.

In memory of Marie Antoinette Lazar and her adventures – ‘be good, but not too good!’


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