A college student needs a special place to read … some quiet, comfy little nest, far from blaring stereos, overheard conversations and other annoyances.
Mine was the Browsing Room in the Illini Union in Urbana. It opened in 1941 and closed in 2003. It wasn’t anywhere near the main library at the University of Illinois, or any other campus library. No, it was tucked away in a corner of the Union, and from all indications, few students used it. They were busy playing pinball, I guess.
The Browsing Room, with its beautiful Colonial-style woodwork and upholstered leather chairs, was truly a place to read. According to an old report, it typically stocked 4,000 books – mostly current fiction, travel, art and non-technical non-fiction. Fifty magazine subscriptions were on hand, as were four daily newspapers.
It was, to me, paradise … quiet, serene, cozy, inviting. I spent many happy hours there, sunk into one of those sweet wing-backed chairs, with my feet on a hassock that could have come from Colonial Williamsburg.
That was more than 40 years ago, but the memories came flooding back a few weeks ago when I found the perfect chair for my own reading room. It is a dark blue, La-Z-Boy recliner, luxuriously upholstered in smooth, butter-soft leather. I got it for $100. The seller had paid $500 for it.
Nothing is more essential to good reading than a good chair. The antique maple rocker that I had used for 25 years looked great, but it was never all that comfortable. As soon as I sat in the La-Z-Boy, I knew I had to have it.
My reading room was once a bedroom. It has no TV, no stereo, no computer. Instead, there are three tall bookcases filled with my books, plus an assortment of my favorite things: a slant-top desk from the 1820s, two shimmering stained-glass windows, circa 1880, a couple of posters, a mounted deer head, framed newspapers and documents, my hiking sticks and a black Associated Press teletype machine from the 1950s.
Most important, there’s a ceiling light, a nice floor lamp and my new chair.
Since the La-Z-Boy arrived, I’ve been devouring some great books. First came Candice Millard’s three engrossing bestsellers: “Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill,” “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” and “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.”
I then proceeded to “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” and “First Family: Abigail and John Adams,” both by Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph J. Ellis, then came “Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier,” by Joanna Stratton.
I’m now finishing the famous three-volume Mark Twain: “A Biography,” written in 1912 by Albert Bigelow Paine. Next up: “The Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War” by Richard Bruce Winders.
It’s a joy to have my very own little Browsing Room.
Heaven can wait.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.