October 14


Because the Cambridge University Library is a copyright library, it needs a 17-story tower to hold everything. It’s the only high-rise in the city, and its dark brick facade is nearly windowless. I like to think that’s where they put the bad students. But on Sundays, not even good students can go there. On Sundays—cold, rainy, dark, and gloomy Sundays—the library is shut.

No matter, there are more than 100 other libraries around Cambridge to plop down in. There’s my college library, a tiny brick building with pine paneling and stained-glass windows; there’s the English department library—cement walls, glass windows, and sweating undergraduates; and there are the older institutions, like Trinity College’s Wren Library—marble busts, heavy mahogany bookshelves, tall windows overlooking the River Cam. All the tourists make this a hard place to study, though.

Overwhelmed by my choices last Sunday, I headed for a coffee shop, where I sat next to an empty fireplace—soon it will be fireplace season—and admired the gothic windows, the stone arches, the heavy leather armchairs, the massive table piled with coffee mugs and students’ work.

It took effort to focus on my book, Hermione Lee’s biography of Willa Cather—a theme throughout my time here: soak up all the sights and sounds in this fantastical place, but also, don’t forget to spend all your time cranking through a dissertation. After the coffee shop, I walked home in the drizzle, deleting apps on my phone so I could take photos of the yellowing trees and red ivy. Then I read quietly in my room.


Reader’s Note: Every day for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be presenting new entries from “Along the River Cam.” Check here for the latest post.


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Charlotte Salley is a former assistant editor of the Scholar.


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