Read an extract from Ali Smith’s new book Public Library and Other Stories, which will be published on 5th November. 

Simon, my editor, and I had been meeting to talk about a collection of short stories I want to do, called PUBLIC LIBRARY AND OTHER STORIES. We set off on a short walk across central London to his office to photocopy some stories I’d brought with me. Just off Covent Garden we saw a building with the word LIBRARY above its doors.

It didn’t look like a library. It looked like a fancy shop.

What do you think it is? Simon said.

Let’s see, I said.

We crossed the road and went in.

Inside everything was painted black. There was a little vestibule and in it a woman was standing behind a high reception desk. She smiled a hello. Further in, straight ahead of us, I could just glimpse some people sitting at a table and we could hear from behind a thin partition wall the sounds of people drinking and talking.

Hello, we said. Is this a library?

The woman lost her smile.

No, she said.

A man came through from behind the partition. Hello, he said. Can I help at all?

We saw the word library, Simon said. Was this a library once? I said. She’s a writer, Simon said by way of explaining. He’s an editor, I said.

We’re a private members club, the man said. We also have a select number of hotel rooms. I picked up a laminated leaflet from a pile on the desk about some kind of food promotion or taster deal. Simon picked up a card.

Have you actually got actual books? I said.

We do do some books as a feature. Please help yourself to a card, the man said a bit pointedly since we already had.

(Later, when I got home, I unfolded the advert I’d taken, which was for a company working with Library making meals which allowed diners to relive your favourite musicals (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Phantom of the Opera | Les Misérables | Matilda). I typed in the Library website address off the advert. When it came up, I noticed for the first time that a central part of the textual design of the use of the word Library was the thin line drawn through the middle of it: L̶i̶b̶r̶a̶r̶y̶.

This is what Library listed next to the photographs of its five luxurious, individually designed, air-conditioned rooms with many modern amenities and comfortable beds:

• Terrace Bar

• 24 Hour Concierge

• Ground floor lounge with stage and bar

• Massage and Beauty treatment room

• Kitchen with Chef’s table (April 2015)

• Private Dining and boardroom with conferencing

•Double mezzanine with bridge

• Smoking Terrace

• Access to rare Library books).

Simon pocketed the card. I folded the advert about the food promotion into my inside pocket.

Thanks very much, we said.

Then we left. We crossed the road and stopped on the pavement opposite, where we’d first seen the word above the door. We looked back at it. Simon shrugged.

Library, he said.

Now we know, I said.

Extract taken from Public Library and Other Stories, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) which is available to preorder now. Image credit: Sarah Wood 2015.

This piece was first featured on summerofpenguin.com, a month-long celebration of stories and ideas on the London Underground’s WIFI network in partnership with TFL and Virgin Media. So if you happen to be travelling by Tube this summer, be sure to read a story on us.

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Authors, Comment, Extracts, Penguinspiration, Publishing, Recommends, Seasons Readings, Women on the Page

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