Tuesday, April 01, 2008

of libraries, books and marginalia

i've been thinking about libraries on and off today. libraries i've loved. and ones i've loathed. my school library growing up was in a new building, furnished with very modern (ok, it was the 80s) furniture and contained a bunch of encyclopedias and back issues of time and newsweek. it wasn't a very inspiring place. the little town i grew up in had a small public library that was full of old ladies and even older books. also not inspiring. and while loathe is a strong word, i certainly didn't learn to love libraries in these places.

i first found a library i could feel at home in when i attended a community college in southern california in the late 80s. thereafter, my university library at iowa became a place where many happy hours were spent. until that weird masturbating guy ruined it. it was never the same up on the 4th floor after that. i had to move to the law library after that. it was another of those modern structures, but at least a friend had a study carrel i could borrow on occasion.

i spent hours and hours in the library at arizona state, but never fell in love with it. it wasn't 'til "the reg" at the university of chicago that i truly came to appreciate a library in all of its library-ish glory. for the smell of the books, for the darkness of the stacks. for the intellectual hum in the air. but what i came to appreciate most of all was the marginalia. there were debates going on in the margins of the books at the university of chicago. and they were pretty much the best thing about the books in the reg. sometimes, even if i owned a particular book, i would go get it from the stacks anyway, just to see what others had underlined and noted in the margins.

even before that, i was someone who writes in books, but after discovering the discourse going on there, the insight into another's head that an underlined passage provides, i felt positively licensed to do so. the provocation of it. fantastic. i did always use pencil when it was a library book, just in case someone would want to erase. but i use pen in my own books. sometimes a whole color-coded system.

these days, i visit the library far too little and the mailman brings amazon orders to my door regularly. but, i am grateful for amazon, even if it isn't the same as wandering around, perusing books on the shelves. i think it's a pretty amazing website and they have achieved something close to browsing with their tracking of my purchases and what i look at...the recommendations they make are pretty spot on. but of course, that's after years of building up a good database of my purchases on which to base the recommendations. although i should likely feel a bit uncomfortable about the whole "big brother" nature of it, i don't really. but perhaps that's because i live in a country where english isn't the native language. books in english are available, but they are expensive, so on the whole, amazon is my best bet.

to supplement it, i do rather frequently get to english-speaking places where i can properly explore a bookstore...kinokuniya in singapore, foyle's in london, power books in manila. and there's always that weird fact that suri hustvedt's books are released first in norway, so you never know...

4 comments:

Tara said...

Let's see....my husband attending the U of Iowa and I worked at the U of Chicago Hospitals in the mid 90s....I miss lunch at the Divinity school.

julochka said...

and i miss the seminary co-op bookstore....

TheElementary said...

I'm still backtracking my reading and catching up so forgive me for being slow in getting to this; this post is perfect. I am fond of reading about libraries, books, literature.
I can understand why you like amazon so much and while the concept does have its faults, amazon is a blessing too.
"i use pen in my own books. sometimes a whole color-coded system."...I like this :)

julochka said...

thank you...i find myself pondering books quite a lot these days. it was actually you who got me thinking about libraries. thanks for that! :-)