Category: Writing

British Museum Reading Room

British Museum Reading Room

If the heart of Bloomsbury is the British Museum, then the British Museum Reading Room was until recently at the very heart of its heart. I used to go there in the 1980s, when this central domed chamber (only 2ft less in diameter than the Roman Pantheon) still housed the British Library.

Walking over from Hanover Square after work, I would be seated by 6.30pm, bracing myself against the Reading Room’s drowsy embrace: I had quotations to check! I don’t remember any overhead lighting except from the 20 windows around the dome (papier-mâché, painted sky blue) and the glazed area at its apex. As daylight faded and the ranks of readers began to thin out, only the lamps of those still at their desks remained lit, individual yellow pools in this toasty twilight.

Of course, when the Reading Room first opened in 1857, this evening shift would have been impossible. Then, there could be no artificial light at all, neither gas nor candlelight, because of the fire risk. Then, as soon as dusk fell, or even before that if there was a peasouper outside, the readers were all packed off home.

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Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’, The Paris Review

Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’, The Paris Review

By Jonathan Gharraie

I met Helen Simpson for a genial pub lunch near Dartmouth Park in North London on the day she received the American edition of In-Flight Entertainment: Stories. She was evidently quite pleased by the book’s spare but elegant design, which looks through an airplane window onto a locket of cerulean sky. I’m tempted to draw comparisons to her stories, many of which peek at other people’s blitheness, or cruelty, or dreams of escape. But nothing in Simpson’s fiction is quite as peaceful as that glimpse of blue. She is perhaps best known for the characterization of contemporary motherhood in her collections, but many of the stories in In-Flight Entertainment confront the prospect of climate change.

Your collections are never quite themed, but they do feel very painstakingly designed. Was that true for In-Flight Entertainment?

In-Flight Entertainment is my little climate-change suite, I suppose. But there are fifteen stories in it, and only five are about climate change. My only rule is to write about what’s interesting to me at the time. It’s a great subject, but it’s very hard to dramatize or to make particular, and not to hector, not to moralize.


To read the full interview please click here.