Quite Continental Charm School: Day 3 – Get a Library Card

03/02/2012 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Audrey Hepburn.

Editor’s Note: Today I am very pleased to introduce our first Charm School guest speaker!  Stephanie Madewell, the writer, designer and brilliant mind behind the exceptionally erudite blog even*cleveland, is a lady I have long admired, so you can imagine how excited I was when she accepted my request to contribute.

It is difficult to describe exactly what kind of blog even*cleveland is, which is probably why I love it so much.  Somewhat thematic in nature, Stephanie explores various topics (e.g., swans, works in miniature, Louisa May Alcott, winter) through the lenses of art, literature, photography, museum collections and fashion, connecting dots I didn’t know existed.  I find I am frequently staggered at the breadth of this lady’s knowledge about…well, pretty much everything!  Aside from that, she’s also a great source for information on cultured happenings and usually posts great music over the weekends.  If you are not yet familiar with Stephanie and even*cleveland, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Stephanie’s tip for a charmed life.


Her reputation for reading a great deal hung about her
like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic.
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Day 3: Get a Library Card
Since I’ve moved to New York, one of my favorite indulgences is watching people read on the train. New York subway riders are voracious readers – you see everything from tabloid skimmers to book editors correcting proofs. But there are certain readers whose whole presence speaks a story – every detail from the drape of their coat to the knot of their scarf is just right. They sit on the train in attitudes of unstudied elegance, exuding cosmopolitan appeal, and inevitably the grace note is a library book.

I don’t know quite what it is about library books – I love books in general, and the books in my own collection beyond reason – but library books speak straight to desire. They embody both canny frugality and boundless avarice. Library patrons are greedy readers, but smart – they know to try before buying. It’s an admirable quality.

I’ve been lucky to visit a few places in the world – not nearly as many as I would like – but in the absence of unlimited funds and unlimited time, it has been my great good fortune to love to read and to be born into a world with public libraries. I firmly believe no one should go through life without a library card. It is a free passport to places beyond time and imagining – everywhere from the siege-wracked walls of Troy to chill and lonely lunar landscapes. In the past year, I’ve flown with Margarita through the inky Russian sky, bivouacked with Cossacks, hunted blue tigers, watched the ominous shimmer of the desert sun, wandered the moon, and tracked netsuke across two continents.

Stepping into a bookstore is a wonderful thing, and I find owning books a necessity of life, but libraries are living, working monuments to the idea that knowledge should be free and that it belongs to everyone.They let you dip into the seething and magnificent mass of human thought and endeavor – thousands of years of thinking and writing and talking and tale-telling. It’s the easiest way to explore the world, and there’s surefire glamour in that.

by Stephanie Madewell, of even*cleveland


Find out how to get a library card in New York  here.

Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE, 1944.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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§ 5 Responses to Quite Continental Charm School: Day 3 – Get a Library Card

  • laura says:

    Having just been elected to the executive committee of my local library board, I heartily appreciate, endorse, and encourage this sentiment. Libraries hold the stored knowledge of the world, and everybody ought to get in on it. I’m glad you (& Even*Cleveland) are here to tell them so.

  • […] Charm school? Really? Okay, but you really should get a library card. […]

  • EE says:

    This post was brilliant. As an avid reader and lover of books, I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation expressed here. I’m typically a bookstore girl myself, but this week I think I’ll go out and get myself a library card.

  • Emily says:

    I agree, libraries are way classy. The public library was my first stop when I came to Newfoundland (after stopping in the tourist office to find a map). I got a card even before I had an address here. I love our university library too, something about the tons and tons of books on all sorts of topics makes me a little light-headed, in a good way. Thank you for the recommendations, too!

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