I'm reading a lot these days (what with the 500 pages a week average reading load) so it suits me that Oxford is one of the best places in the world to hunker down amongst stacks and get to work. I do a lot of my reading here at the Bodelian Library. This is the main building, or the “Old Bodelian,” which was built in the earliest part of the 17th century.
My favorite place to read, however, is here at the Radcliffe Camera.
I like to grab a spot in the second floor gallery by a window. The reading room is covered by a wonderfully ornate baroque dome and all the ancient tables creak really gratifyingly (under what I like to imagine is the accumulated weight of the centuries' worth of erudition to which they bear witness). Just before dusk, the whole place glows with a stately and august light. I love it.
And I never want for books. The Bod—as it's called by Oxford students—is the main library of the University and the copyright repository for all of Great Britain and Ireland. And in addition to holding a copy of every book published in England, the Bod houses a massive collection of historic manuscripts such as Shakespeare's First Folio and one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles. Just last week I was lucky enough to attend a seminar on Kafka at the Library where I got a first hand chance to inspect the original hand-written manuscript of “The Metamorphosis.”
No offense to the Chicago Public Library system, but the Bod has got good old Harold Washington beat.