Archive for the ‘Inviting Places in Which to Work’ Category

I am in a book, a collaboratively written book, a project initiated by Meliors Simms at bibliophiliaHere is the post on my entry.  I took enormous pleasure in writing my pages, engaging with the other contributors’ ideas, naming my sense of home.  Mine is the next but last entry, so do scroll through the other contributors’ art.

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Yesterday I spent an hour-and-a-half talking to an audience about what I love, which is working with words. I am, in fact, paid to keep words around, tend them, and give them to other people. … And here I can mention that there is nothing like writing for those you love. Building something out of words, an intensely personal medium – something for someone you respect, someone for whom you care – that’s both a pleasure and a properly testing exercise. I have long argued that the writer’s relationship with the putative reader should probably be one of loving respect: it’s a way of maintaining a correct form of address.

More at The Guardian.

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A year ago today, I began regular posting on books about books.  Happy Birthday, Blog.  Have a slice of cake.

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Thank You

A year ago today, my husband gave me this blog, all wrapped up with a ribbon.  He said he thought I’d like to have a blog, and he’d done some research on where the the cool book blogs hung out, what they looked like, and he thought wordpress’s “misty look” looked ideal (and free and simple for a technophobe like me). 

He was right.  On all counts. 

I love my blog.  I love the new things I’ve learned, all the new people I’ve met, all the books I’ve read with this destination in mind.  I have even loved depriving myself of new books and then failing spectacularly at depriving myself of new books. 

This blog has turned me into a much more engaged reader, a more passionate book lover, and into an ever-more-likely-to-be-crushed-by-a-pile-of-books person.

Thank you, Ted.  It was the perfect gift.

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I asked a few weeks ago who would elegize the library card catalogue.  Nicholson Baker did, in an essay that was the beginning of his research for Double Fold, but after struggling to finish Double Fold, I can’t face it yet.

Thankfully, I found Susan Olding’s essay “Library Haunting” in the most recent issue of The New Quarterly, with which I curled up while my youngest refused to nap.  I would have had less patience with his antics if I hadn’t been tuning him out to the rhythm of Olding’s prose. 

Here she is on card catalogues:

The card catalogues are mostly gone now.  A few places keep them for their aesthetic value; in one Los Angeles library, a collection of typed and handwritten cards lines a glass-walled elevator, and Yale University still maintains its room of wooden cabinets.  Some librarians argue for the artifact; important information is lost, they claim, when those old cards are thrown away.  But most libraries have moved to online cataloguing systems, and before we get to the stacks, we have to shoulder past banks of computers.  People huddle at the screens, their faces bluish in the LED lights.  In my city’s main branch, circulation and returns are also fully automated.  I can enter and leave this library with less human contact than at a supermarket–which ought to be a good thing, since I go there to be alone with the books.  Why, then, do I go less often than I once did, to browse the shelves?  Why, with every change in the library’s floor plan to accommodate new equipment do I feel a little less welcome? 

I ought to get over myself, because for millennia, the capacity to change and adapt to new technologies has helped to keep libraries vital. 

I love that last sentence, its commonsensical, no-nonsense layering over her nostalgia.

Here is the description of the elevator catalogue concept from the LA Public Library website

David Bunn envisioned two passenger elevators in the Tom Bradley Wing as more than a way to get from one floor to another. The artist transformed them into “observation pods” traveling between subject divisions by using some of the Library’s seven million catalog cards rendered obsolete by the new state-of-the-art automation system. With these cards Bunn papered the inside of the elevator cabs and lined the shafts which are visible through a viewing window in the cabs. The elevators also display a digital readout of the Dewey Decimal numbers for each floor the elevator passes. “The elevators and the card catalog together form a kind of ‘core sample’ of the library,” explained Bunn. “As the catalog dutifully classifies and finds a place for every book, so the elevators travel deep through the center of the building, encompassing and accessing all the building’s holdings.”

Olding’s essay is full of wonderful insights about the place of the library in our lives.  My favourite is her linguistic riff on the etymology of the word library:

One librarian objected when, at age ten or eleven, I tried to withdraw adult books, but my mother must have spoken with her, for on my next visit no one challenged my choices.  I felt a freedom there, a freedom that makes perfect sense if you recall that while our “library” derives from the Latin “liber”, meaning the inner bark of a tree–an early form of paper–the primary meaning of the word is “free, independent, unrestrained.”  Books and liberty are born of the same parent.

What is so lovely about this passage is how it also speaks to other essays in the issue, particularly Theresa Kishkan’s essay “Arbutus menziesii” about the Arbutus tree, its distinctive peeling bark, peeling off clothes for moments of intimacy on canvas, on sand, on paper. 

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And Kerry Clare’s essay about the frustrations of new motherhood and her desperate daydreamed bids for freedom.  Great reading, even with the soundtrack of a 2-year-old boy asking to be set free from his crib.

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This is a great, spooky way to begin a month of books about libraries.

Originally serialized in The Guardian in 2008, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile was published in book form by Harry Abrams last month.

The book begins in the wee hours of the morning when the protagonist, Alexandra (get it?), discovers a bookmobile whose collection is peculiar: it contains every book that she has read.  The protagonist gets lost in the reflection of herself in her books, and she becomes dangerously attracted to the escape offered not only by the collection but by the librarian’s profession of curating a collection for just one patron.  Unable to find the bookmobile again, she goes on to become a librarian, but she spends her life yearning for a return to that perfect midnight collection.

Niffenegger’s illustrations play up the visual appeal of a bookshelf packed with well-loved books, but the story itself reveals the dark side to our attraction to books; bibliophilic narcissism leads to self-destruction.

What I loved most about this book was the idea that there is a librarian who knows our books as well as we do.  The librarian of the night bookmobile is a version of a guardian angel–a supernatural guardian who is tied to an individual.  I wanted to say a “transcendent judge” but he is not at all judgemental, which might also be why I liked the book so much.  I’m tired of the disembodied judge of what I do, say and read.  I much prefer this version: a kindly man who keeps track of and lovingly organizes what I read.

The book’s ending is dark, which is what makes it a spooky read for the Halloween season.  As Niffenegger states in her afterword, the book is “a cautionary tale of the seductions of the written word.” It is also only the first installment of a larger work, The Library, so there is more to look forward to.

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This is a wonderful video, directed by Mark Gardner, about the desk and its place in our working lives.  Massimo Vignelli, who also appeared in Helvetica, has a clean slate of a desk that has to be seen to be believed. 

Writer Kurt Andersen says that for him, the desk has a sacred and central function akin to the hearth, the heart of the home, where he is very comfortable being alone.  Yes.  There is nothing in my house more truly mine than my desk, messy warts and all.

Check it out at vimeo, who won’t let me embed it for some reason.

And for images of the desks of and interviews with Canadian writers, check out desk space.

Thanks to Things Organized Neatly for the link to the video of “The Desk”.

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