I am a voluntary recluse. People don't mind spending time with me - so I'm told - but I dislike spending time with people. I reluctantly socialise on occasion - society demands such a sacrifice - but I prefer solitude. I need an escape. I need time away from the formality of small talk and the commotion of conversation. I need to be alone with my thoughts or, preferably, the thoughts of my favourite writers.
We recluses seek solitude in strange places. The park is nice on rare sunny afternoons, but there is a shocking lack of public toilets and the perpetuity of bush-pissing makes for a daunting experience. Coffee shops are tolerable if one can withstand the din of needless gossip and the horror of overhearing an awkward first date. Pubs also provide solitude, but the risk of the drunkards approach is a constant fear for the inept recluse.
The public library, however, is the recluse's ideal habitat. The library is a strange and mysterious place. It is full of buzz yet silent. One is surrounded by crowds yet feels perfectly alone. It serves the community yet paradoxically allows one to avoid the community.
Unlike the outside world, there is no judgment in the library. There is no dress code: the hobo and the aristocrat are equals. There is no pomp or pageantry. All are welcome. It doesn't matter if you're an eight-year-old reading Ulysses or an eighty-year-old reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It is each person alone with their thoughts in solidarity with others alone with their thoughts. There exists a code, a comradery, a fellowship among us library-dwelling folk. The library is, in many ways, a recluse's utopia.
And that utopia is under attack. Budget cuts over the last few years have led to library closures across the UK. Plenty more libraries face a similar fate. According to the Voices for the Library campaign, over 10% of Britain's libraries are currently under threat. 500 out of a total public library provision of just over 4500 face closure. That means thousands of self-loathing recluses such as myself abandoned, forced to accept our existence in parks and pubs. We are losing our natural habitat.
Fighting back is an almost insurmountable feat for the recluse. It means conversing, arguing, maybe even going out in public and voicing our opinion. To save our natural habitat, therefore, we recluses have to enter enemy ground: the outside world.
Plenty of folks are already fighting on our behalf. Ian Rankin, for example, campaigned to prevent the closure of 16 libraries in Fife. He said the library provided 'refuge and a place of constant wonder' when he was growing up. I know the feeling. When Sydenham Library faced closure in 2011, writer Baroness Mary Warnock said the shutting of her local library amounts to 'barbarism'.
Zadie Smith, fighting to save Kensal Rise Library, said 'I can see that if you went to Eton or Harrow, like so many of the present government, it is hard to see how important it is to have a local library.' Smith wasn't alone in the campaign to save Kendal Rise - a library opened by Mark Twain. She was joined by Nick Cave, Alan Bennett, the Pet Shop Boys, an entire community and, of course, a few of my fellow recluses.
The fight to save our libraries is particularly important for younger generations - those kids seeking an escape to read Huckleberry Finn in peace. Surely, these kids have the same right that I was once afforded. They too deserve an escape. They too deserve the sort of peace that kept my sanity in check. Like Rankin, they too deserve a place of refuge and constant wonder.
Last Saturday, the UK celebrated National Library Day. National Library Day was an opportunity to raise awareness and help to protect the natural habitat of strange, reclusive creatures such as myself and to ensure that every kid has the same opportunities that I once had: to hide away from the outside world. It received little attention. Perhaps that's because there was little to celebrate, as closures are hardly worth celebration.
Every Briton needs an escape. Some find it on nightclub floors. Others find it amongst the foliage and greenery of public parks. For recluses, the library is our escape. It's our home. It's where we feel comfortable. It is as close to a utopia as we have ever found and we will always, albeit reluctantly, fight for that utopia.