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Posts Tagged ‘librarians’

Timbuktu’s Massive Book Heist, and Other News

April 25, 2016 | by

Abdel Kader Haidara in Timbuktu, 2009. Photo: Brent Stirton/National Geographic

  • Today in censored statues: in Italy, the fashionable thing to do with one’s nude statues is not to display them but to conceal them with some plywood or maybe a heavy drop-cloth or whatever else you’ve got lying around. The Capitoline Venus, which resides in the hall of the Capitoline Museums, in Rome, was boxed up last month to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the visiting Iranian president, but really this sort of thing happens all the time: “True, some discussions were had. According to one journalist, questions were raised about the conspicuous testicles of Marcus Aurelius’s horse in the equestrian statue which also graces the hall … This kind of artistic censorship is remarkably common in Italy, to the point of being frequently unreported. As journalist Giovanna Vitale has pointed out, for instance, it had been only five months since a nude by Jeff Koons in a Florentine palace included in the itinerary of sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan was concealed … And—in case you think it’s only heads of state of the Muslim faith who are reserved this peculiar treatment—it was eight months since posters of a Tamara de Lempicka exhibition in Turin ... were covered to save the Pope from certain emotional trauma.”
  • A few months ago, I used this space to hawk Saul Bellow’s ten-thousand-dollar desk, which was not, at the time, a hot seller. But things have changed. That desk is gone. As Bellow’s son Daniel explained to Atlas Obscura: “All of a sudden, everyone from famous journalists to doctors from the Mayo Clinic contacted him about purchasing his father’s desk … In the end, though, Bellow’s desk was sold to his son’s niece, who matched the top bid at the auction, and kept the desk in the family … The desk will be put in his niece’s new home in Hudson, New York. As for the money from the auction, Daniel says he is going to use it to build a kiln chimney in his new pottery studio.”
  • Faced with an al-Qaida invasion, librarians in Timbuktu oversaw a massive smuggling operation in which some 300,000 rare books and manuscripts were secreted away to safety: “The first thing we’re going to do is get them out of these big libraries. We’re going to take trunks. We’re going to pack them into trunks at night when the rebels are asleep, and then we’re going to move them in the dead of night by mule cart to these various houses—safe houses scattered around the city. And hopefully they’ll be safe for the duration of this occupation … They’re in about a dozen climate-controlled storage rooms in Bamako, the capital of Mali.”
  • In which Meghan O’Gieblyn decides to give Updike a chance, takes Couples off the shelf, and finds … many things she expected and a few she didn’t: “There was plenty in the book that lived up to Updike’s contemporary reputation: women who think things no woman would think (‘She had wanted to bear Ken a child, to brew his excellence in her warmth’) … There are many passages in which Updike’s prodigious gifts as a prose artist are given over to the effects of gravity on women’s bodies. Nobody can write the female body in decay quite like Updike. So clinical and unrelenting is his gaze, he manages to call attention to signs of aging that even I—someone in possession of a female body—had never considered. ‘Age had touched only the softened line of her jaw and her hands,’ he writes of Piet’s wife, Angela, ‘their stringy backs and reddened fingertips’ … What intrigued me most about Couples, though, was the sense of doom that undercuts the orgy.”
  • Jonas Mekas was the first film critic for the Village Voice, and a new collection of his critical writing reveals “an artistic time capsule of New York at a moment of crucial energy”: “There’s a live-wire spontaneity to Mekas’s writing, an excitement sparked by his sense of beauty, by his sheer pleasure in cinematic imagination, and it’s connected to a soulful sense of inwardness and empathy … What energizes his discussions and exhortations is the impulse behind the films, rather than the films themselves—the lives and dreams of the artists, the harsh demands placed on filmmakers by the effort to create homemade, self-financed, independent films, made by oneself and one’s friends. These are films that repudiate openly the conventions of the commercial cinema, the norms and limits on subject matter and representation, while the filmmakers submit to a horrific range of deprivations and afflictions for the sake of their art. In effect, Mekas offers, both in and as film criticism, extraordinary and enduring sketches of downtown lives.”

Urgent Questions for Librarians, and Other News

June 2, 2015 | by

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A question to an NYPL librarian from October 1976. Photo: NYPL, via the Guardian

  • “My idea of hell on earth,” Philip Larkin wrote once, “is a literary party.” He had in mind the Oxford parties of his era, which, much like the Oxford parties of this era, comprised “a lot of sherry drill with important people.” But what if those parties were in fact really entertaining, as at least one guest avows they were? “God, they were fun. Ever since Mrs. Dylan Thomas, at a literary party, stuck her elbow into the bowl of ice cream that T. S. Eliot was eating from, before presenting it to the great poet with the instruction to ‘Lick it off,’ these things have been democratic, argumentative and often memorable.”
  • “Please give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs?” “What is the significance of the hip movement in the Hawaiian dance?” “Is it good poetry where every other line rhymes, instead of having each line rhyme with the one before it?” Questions for librarians at the New York Public Library before there was the Internet.
  • Saul Bellow’s portraitist remembers their encounter: “Bellow talked all the while, about life in New York when he was younger, his cohorts and various writers. What a duplistic moment for me: I had to ask him to be quiet so I could take some close-ups. He was fidgety even while cooperating. He picked up a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets and began reading, first quietly, and then aloud. I listened for a few minutes, and cringing apologetically, shushed him again.”
  • If Louise Erdrich could go back in time, she’d go to prison, as long as the company was good: “I am stranded for a few days in a comfortable jail cell with Walt Whitman and Henry James. I take one side of the room, share a bunk with Emily Dickinson. We listen in on their awkward conversations, exchange sharp glances of amusement.”
  • Max Mathews, who died in April, wasn’t the first person to make sounds with a computer—but his experiments with an IBM 704 mainframe in 1957 were the first to use “a replicable combination of hardware and software that allowed the user to specify what tones he wanted to hear.” He was the first computer musician: “He provided the initial research for virtually every aspect of computer music, from his early work with programming languages for synthesis and composition … to foundational research in real-time performance … Max also helped start the conversation about how humans were meant to interact with computers by developing everything from modified violins to idiosyncratic control systems such as the Radio Baton.”

The Return of the Glass Delusion, and Other News

May 11, 2015 | by

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Zoja Trofimiuk, Despair, 2012.

  • Chris Burden—who spent five days in a school locker, hammered a metal stud into his sternum, and had himself shot in the arm by a rifle from fifteen feet, all in the name of art—has died at sixty-nine. “Power was a central motif in Burden’s work. He approached it as an almost tactile, palpable material, one with visual, physical, emotional and social meanings … His work delved into the power of individuals, tribes and nations. Often he explored the realm of science and technology as distinctly modern manifestations of power’s dual capacity for the creation of magical delight or total annihilation.”
  • Send a (well-encrypted) thank-you note to the antiauthoritarian librarian in your life: “Librarians have frequently been involved in the fight against government surveillance. The first librarian to be locked up for defending privacy and intellectual freedom was Zoia Horn, who spent three week in jail in 1972 for refusing to testify against anti–Vietnam War activists. During the Cold War, librarians exposed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to recruit library staffers to spy on foreigners, particularly Soviets, through a national effort called the Library Awareness Program. The post-Snowden Internet age is no different.”
  • The county of Dorset, along the coast of England, gave Thomas Hardy “the pastoral landscapes that he is famous for describing; the farmland and heath with sandstone cottages, sheep pastures and Roman roads ending abruptly at dramatic seaside cliffs. And since Dorset is relatively unspoiled by modern development, it isn’t hard to imagine, with a squint of the eyes, the countryside as Hardy saw it.”
  • The Irish landscape, meanwhile, contains such well-documented beauty and blight that any writer who takes it on risks courting cliché—but why not try anyway? “Over the years I had avoided what I call ‘the landscape solution’ in Irish prose, whereby the writer puts the word ‘Atlantic’ or ‘bog’ into the story and some essential yearning in her character is fixed. But there I was myself, getting fixed on the green road, and it seemed to me that this was something I should allow myself to write about now.”
  • Today in living, breathing metaphors: people who think they’re made of glass. When glass was a new and seemingly magical material, glass delusions manifested relatively commonly; about midway through the nineteenth century, though, doctors began to see fewer and fewer of them. “It’s easy to assume society and culture are so changed that mentally ill people would no longer manifest this particular delusion. But a psychiatrist from the Netherlands has uncovered contemporary cases … The glass delusion has powerful contemporary resonance in a society in which anxieties about fragility, transparency, and personal space are pertinent to many people's experience of, and anxieties about, living in the modern world.”

Inhabiting the Invisible Plane, and Other News

October 29, 2014 | by

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A monotype print by Grady Gordon. Image via Beautiful Decay

  • “My mind is so dumb when I write. Each story requires a different style of stupidity ... I don't know how the mind works, but isn't there a part of it that deals specifically with reason and sense? The brainy asshole of the mind? ... That asshole is my intellect. He's a really shitty writer, as you might imagine.” Lorin Stein interviews Ottessa Moshfegh.
  • Librarians versus algorithms: Who recommends better books? The latest developments in a John Henry story.
  • A new exhibition at Tate Britain shows paintings alongside William Hazlitt’s criticism about them, reminding us of what a vital, unusually perceptive critic he was. “One purrs at what he’d have made of the homogenized, commercialized art world of today—and how surgically he might have cut into it.”
  • Sven Birkerts in (and on) convalescence: “How the feel of time changes when all the terms are altered. What on most days had moved with an almost hectic momentum, an ill-choreographed succession of one thing after another, one day just halted, causing the hours to then pool up behind it: the afternoon immobilized, with almost nothing to mark the change or confirm that this is not the world paralyzed into still life.”
  • Grady Gordon makes monotype prints “by removing thick black ink from a plexiglass surface.” They’re ghoulish. They “bring about the characters that inhabit the invisible plane.” They make great gifts for your enemies.

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Their Just Reward

September 23, 2014 | by

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo, The Librarian, 1562.

From The Librarian at Play, a collection of essays by Edmund Lester Pearson, published in 1911. Pearson was a librarian who wrote humor and true-crime books.

I looked and beheld, and there were a vast number of girls standing in rows. Many of them wore pigtails, and most of them chewed gum.

“Who are they?” I asked my guide.

And he said: “They are the girls who wrote ‘Lovely’ or ‘Perfectly sweet’ or ‘Horrid old thing!’ on the fly-leaves of library books. Some of them used to put comments on the margins of the pages—such as ‘Served him right!’ or ‘There! you mean old cat!’”

“What will happen to them?” I inquired.

“They are to stand up to the neck in a lake of ice cream soda for ten years,” he answered.

“That will not be much of a punishment to them,” I suggested.

But he told me that I had never tried it, and I could not dispute him.

“The ones over there,” he remarked, pointing to a detachment of the girls who were chewing gum more vigorously than the others, “are sentenced for fifteen years in the ice cream soda lake, and moreover they will have hot molasses candy dropped on them at intervals. They are the ones who wrote:

If my name you wish to see
Look on page 93,

and then when you had turned to page 93, cursing yourself for a fool as you did it, you only found:

If my name you would discover
Look upon the inside cover,

and so on, and so on, until you were ready to drop from weariness and exasperation. Hang me!” he suddenly exploded, “if I had the say of it, I’d bury ‘em alive in cocoanut taffy—I told the Boss so, myself.”

I agreed with him that they were getting off easy.

“A lot of them are named ‘Gerty,’ too,” he added, as though that made matters worse. Read More »

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A Day in the Sun for Beleaguered Librarians, and Other News

February 3, 2014 | by

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Photo: Bill Branson

 

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