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Serendipity in the book stacks

The Reading Room in the London Library

For the capital’s “writers, thinkers and actors”, the London Library is a haven, says Daisy Dawnay in Air Mail. Everyone from Virginia Woolf to Charles Darwin has ascended the “grey stone steps at the northwest corner of St James’s Square”. For the £49-a-month membership – less than half the cost of a hot desk at WeWork – attendees rub shoulders with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro and Simon Schama. The library’s steel stacks hold more than a million books categorised by subject, leading to a “wonderful serendipity” for readers. “I’ve got a book out now – Chasing the Sun, by Linda Geddes – all about the effect of sunlight on our bodies,” former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman tells me. “I was looking for a book on snow, and there it was, under ‘Weather’.”

The library lacks a café, so members in need of hydration or sunlight take to the Square. All “floppy hair and corduroy”, they’re easily distinguished from the hedge-funders in their Savile Row suits. Aspiring creatives who stay late often get chatting and move on to a pub when the Reading Room closes. It’s even a pretty good place to find a date – members are known to “leave phone numbers on the occasional desk”. “It’s not quite Gertrude Stein’s salon, but the dream of romance is most definitely alive.”