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[Susan notes: Of course I am happy that Oliver Sacls wrote this letter--but angry that he needed to.]

Published in The New York Review of books

To the editor

Seeing the photograph of Willesden Library in Zadie Smith’s powerful article ["North West London Blues," NYR, July 12] gave me a sudden start, and a rush of intense memories and emotions, for it was here that I spent many of the happiest hours of my growing-up years—our house was a five-minute walk from the library—and where I received my real education. I hated school, instruction, classes, and needed to feel free—free to look at the thousands, tens of thousands, of books in the library—to roam and to enjoy the special atmosphere and the quiet companionship of other readers, all, like myself, on quests of their own.

The tender and nostalgic memories evoked by the photo turned to rage and heartbreak as I read Smith’s account of the proposed demolition of the library, and its replacement by luxury flats.

It is true that one can get anything online now, and read everything at home, but there is nothing like a “real” book, and nothing like a library, especially a local library, which is an essential part of a living community. I hope something can be done for Willesden Library, and for public libraries everywhere, but one sees from Zadie Smith’s account of the dawn raid on Kensal Rise Library in London how even passionate communal support—volunteers to run the libraries, and chains of people to protect them—may be impotent to prevent their destruction.

Oliver Sacks

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