"Promoting reading, donating books, opening worlds"

Attic Library’s escape route for bookworms

13 Sep 2013

“It is both relaxing and invigorating to occasionally set aside the worries of life, seek the company of a friendly book . . . from the reading of ‘good books’ there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way,” Gordon Bitner Hinckley, a religious leader and author, once remarked.

To make this a reality, Bianca Riley, owner of the Attic Library – the only private library in Harare – has opened a new window of opportunity that allows bookworms to drown their sorrows in the latest novels.

Situated at the Borrowdale Race Course, the Attic Library is a unique development that helps book lovers get the latest novels at a minimum fee while giving them an exciting reading experience from a broad range of bestsellers.

“The Attic Library is now the only private library in Harare,” says Bianca bubbling with confidence. “We have huge collection of hand-picked novels from all genres — classic to latest arrivals.”

Most city libraries are in a sorry state and are saddled with outdated and worn-out books. Buildings are crumbling while some of the libraries appear lifeless and abandoned.

Leaking roofs, broken window panes and filthy and neglect greet book lovers. Most of the buildings need a fresh leak of paint. There is little cheer for book lovers at most of the city libraries.

And Bianca’s Attic Library is filling the gap and offering book lovers a chance to read the latest books.

“One simple fact that can’t be avoided —books are beautiful and bring a little inspiration to many readers,” says Bianca. “The Attic Library is not a reference library, but gives a perfect opportunity for book lovers to come a pick a book they will forever cherish.”

The library has a membership of 120 people and the figure is rising as more people join the library.

“Books have the power to change and empower us,” she says. “By making this a private library, it makes us to be able to bring in new books and best sellers which are no older than three months.”

The library has a collection of more than 4 500 titles covering crime fiction, general fiction, non-fiction, biographies, fantasy, self-help books, religion and a broad range of books for teenagers and children.

Bianca says the most popular books at the Attic Library, though difficult to pinpoint given individual preferences, include popular crime fiction novels by Jeffrey Archer, Lee Child, J. D. Robb, Jonathan Kellerman and Michael Connelly.

In the general fiction category, the most popular writers are Nora Roberts, Susan Lewis, Jodi Picoult, Douglas Kennedy and Santa Montefiore.

“I believe having a library for the benefit of book lovers is an important thing to me,” Bianca says. “Away from hustle and bustle of urban life, books are pleasure to read especially when you travel to resort spots such as Kariba, Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River.”

Zimbabwe, despite being the country with the highest literacy rate in Africa, is battling a poor reading culture.

Many tend to read to pass their academic and professional examinations while few pursue reading in general after they secure jobs and other professional attachments.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends,” says Bianca.

“They are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors and the most patient of teachers. They have the ability to transport you to any time or place that you wish to visit, can make you feel as though you are not alone in the world and can bring you hope and can inspire the uninspired.”

Bianca derived the name of her library from Attic Street close to Churchill Avenue where she started operating her library from.

She says she was motivated to start her own private library because of her longstanding passion for books.

Frustration and failure to get latest novels of her favourite titles also spurred her to take a dive into the library business.

“I have strong passion for books. Reading gives you a huge standing point. So whenever I scouted for something to read I couldn’t get anything from book shops and libraries in Harare. I got frustrated and I felt strongly that why not open a private library to fill this huge gap,” she says.

Clients who have signed and joined the Attic Library are full of praise.

“The Attic is one of the most up to date libraries in Zimbabwe,” says Penny Lage of Harare. “Without this library, I wouldn’t have afforded to read as much as I am doing now.”

Says Emma O’Beirne: “Through the efforts of the Attic Library to provide a comfortable and up-to-date library, my three children have been able to make reading a fun part of their lives as opposed to associating reading with a ‘school thing.’

“They love coming into the library, playing with Bianca’s dog  Max and even my unwilling reader daughter has gradually become interested in the concept of choosing a book from the library.”

Others say joining the library makes economic sense. “I love going to the Attic because there is a good selection and for the monthly price of less than one lunch with a friend I can choose as many books as I want.”

But its not all rosy for Bianca. Books are expensive to import and through offering a library service, it becomes cheaper for one to read as much for a US$15 monthly subscription.

Bianca has travelled widely and lived in various countries. But she found the lure of Zimbabwe where she grew up in too strong to be ignored.
“I love this slice of heaven — Zimbabwe,” she says. “Zimbabwe is beautiful and it is a slice of heaven.”

She was born in 1984 and did her secondary education at Peterhouse College. She studied various courses in English, business, scuba diving and numerous others before settling for a library business.

In many ways the Attic Library represents the mind of its collector, her fancies and foibles, her strength and weaknesses as well as her prejudices and preferences.

A visit to it will certainly renew passion for reading and give you a real “wow” factor