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Monday, June 20, 2011

Rare Book School

I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia (thanks to a scholarship from the IOBA) at the beginning of June and took the course The History of the Book, 200-2000.  The course was taught by two rare book librarians, John Buchtel and Mark Dimunation, who were incredibly knowledgeable, as well as entertaining and quite funny (sometimes even breaking out in song and dance).  Since we covered 1800 years of history in 30 hours, the class was of necessity fast and slightly overwhelming in the amount of material presented.  It was taught in show-and-tell style, with many opportunities in the classroom and UVa's Alderman Library to see and handle objects from cuneiform tablets (replicas) to illuminated manuscripts, books, prints, bindings, and printing equipment.  The course also covered the cultural, social, scientific, and religious impacts of printing and book production.

One of the high points was a field trip to The Library of Congress (three hours each way by bus), where we got a quick tour of a small part of the library which is impressively decorated in book-related murals, sculptures, and mosaics, as well as a glance at The Gutenberg Bible on display, before settling into the Rare Book Reading Room where we saw many beautiful manuscripts and books.  Each student got to choose some book in particular they wanted to see, and I chose Alice in Wonderland.  Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, happened to have a copy with some original John Tenniel drawings tipped in.  Other favorites viewed at LC were plates from the elephant folio sized (because each print was life-sized of the bird represented, and thus had to accommodate a turkey) Audubon's Birds of America; a block book--the equivalent of a graphic novel for the 15th century; Galileo's Starry Messenger, which he printed himself and appears to have his hand print; as well as a really cool book called Astronomicum Caesareum that was full of colorful paper calculators ("vovelles", one of our vocabulary words) that could be used instead of brass instruments for navigation.  That's just to name a few.  We saw literally hundreds of examples during the course of the week long class.

Most of the other RBS students were librarians, and most from the East Coast.  I stayed in a dorm room on the lovely UVa grounds, which were quite pretty with red brick and white columned buildings and lots of green space and gardens. It was hot there; quite a change from Seattle where summer doesn't start until after the 4th of July.

I had never been to the Library of Congress before (in fact, I had only been to Washington D.C. once in a brief stopover between NYC and Baltimore), and was quite impressed.  I'm interested in spending some more time exploring their website, which is where the digitized WPA poster above came from.

Reading Notes
After reading about her a couple of times in The New Yorker, I picked up a book by Paula Fox, Desperate Characters, to read on my flight home from Virginia.  It's a short novel, written in a realistic and precise, stark style about some indeed desperate characters.  I liked it and have passed it on to Sean who is currently reading it.  He kept saying, "Nothing is happening, except this woman got bit by a cat," so I'll be interested to see what he thinks when he's done.  Unfortunately for me, I finished the book by the time I got to the Atlanta airport where I had a four hour wait.  I took a look at the offerings on display at the airport bookstores and was totally horrified by the lowest common denominator represented.  Icky.  Of course, the same can be said for all aspects of airports and flying, from the terrible food to the inevitable blasting televisions.

When I got home, I picked up a couple of more Paula Fox books, and have just finished her memoir of her lonely and unconventional childhood, Borrowed Finery.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing:) I look forward to reading more and just subscribed to your posts!