No Room of One’s Own

I don’t have a permanent place where I sit and write stuff. I’ve tried libraries but they all have beige interiors, noisy readers, and the dreary ambiance of an impoverished resource center. So I drift around town and look for other cozy, undisturbed nooks.

I had planned to work in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library while staying in that city. Nice, eh?

23-1 Rose Main Reading Room New York City Public Library Main Branch

Two city blocks long, it said on the webpage. Fifty-two feet high ceilings with murals. Majestic was the chosen word. Plenty of room for me and a handful of big ideas, it seemed.


After a piece or two of the ceiling dropped to the ground, the staff decided to renovate the whole room. And closed it. I never made it inside.

I found a few spacious bars (lucky me) that worked fine for an hour or two, but a combination of increasingly raucous customers, and the effects of the beer and wine I was forced (yes, forced) to buy, eventually made my output worthless.

I returned to the NYPL and discovered this little beauty.

17-2 Park Row, Old Post Office, The Harper and Brothers Building Murals In Dewitt Wallace Periodical Room New York City Public Library Main Branch
The New York Public Library De Witt Wallace Room.

Named after the founder of Reader’s Digest, who sat in here for years, editing the original stories to fit his genius of condensation. Let’s ignore, for the moment, the cheesy choice of stories and the rabid anti-socialist tendencies on display.

It quickly became the biggest selling magazine in the USA and even now, as the print media sag from competition on the internet, it remains the world’s best seller with a circulation around the ten million mark (down from a peak of 23 million).

Maybe some of that work ethic would rub off on me, I thought as I quietly slid into my ample seat and gazed at the artworks depicting buildings of various publishers. (Who chose that as a fascinating theme?)

But soon, the blindingly obvious drawback to working inside a work of art grew obvious. Streams of tourists filed silently through the door and stared. At the paneled walls, at the paintings and worst of all, at us—the readers and writers. I tried staring back, but there were too many of them to deter.

I gave up. Walked across the road to the Mid-Manhattan branch of the NYPL, and back into the beige and under-budgeted. Some dreams just refuse to come true.