Friday, February 26, 2010

illuminated manuscriptorium

be Books has a treasure trove for those of us who like to gaze upon old books, far beyond our means, and dream. I speak of the Abe Books Rare Book Room. And in that virtual room, is the Illuminated Manuscripts section, which holds things like: an illuminated Morte D'Arthur: A Poem, by Lord Alfred Tennyson (sold), a single page from a 1460 copy of a Book of Hours, and books about illuminated manuscripts and their history.

In the introduction to the Abe Books Illuminated Manuscripts section, Beth Carswell tells us that the word 'manuscript comes from the Latin manu scriptum, which translates literally to "written with hands".' Go Monks!

New York Public library has a vast illuminated manuscript collection, many images of which are available on-line. They don't say much about the collection, and the entrance page on the site has 3 or 4 links that seem like they'd be helpful, but not one of them works. The connections to the images via the contents page however, works fine. And the images are beautiful! Just check out this image of the Annunciation and beginning Hours of the Virgin in a copy of the Book of Hours.

The Library at the University of Glasgow has--or had--a Book of the Month page in their Special Collections department. They're on holiday from this while they re-design their website (so the link may not work indefinitely). The last entry before the hiatus, December 2009, brought what they call their "jewel in the crown of illuminated manuscripts: Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi (or Life of Christ)", which they describe this way: "A devotional account of Christ's life, this substantial French manuscript is comprised of four volumes containing 140 illuminated illustrations." Its pretty sweet.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

egyptian bookmark

This beautiful thing was a gift I received from client I work with on the Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library project, in Dudley, Massachusetts. The library is nearly completed, and I am very happy with the results thus far. I can't wait for it to be finished.

I don't read hieroglyphics very well. I've forgotten most of my ancient Egyptian since high school, so I'm going to have to do some guessing. On the left we've got a young man, probably a noble or wealthy person, and he's cruising on a barque, in a pool of water. The barque, its passenger, and the cargo on board, seem to be blessed by the sun god Ra, who shines down upon the whole affair. What he's hauling could be either a Canopic Chest or a bee hive. Maybe its folded laundry, not sure. He's also got something standing up there that looks like candles, but is probably a ceremonial object like a fetish; an animal skin hanging from a stick, which are symbols of Osiris and Anubis. Seems like it might be.

Our man is headed to a place guarded by a couple of falcons, who appear to be saying something, which I'm going to assume is some kind of greeting. On the right of the scene, our guy is being led by the hand by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, and friend to the dead. I checked out some Egyptology sites to see if I could figure out what's going on here, and based on my less than exhausting research, I'm going to hazard a guess: He's being led to the Court of Osiris for the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. I'm also going to guess that our man is carrying a feather in honor of Ma'at, who will--as the goddess of truth, law and universal order--provide the actual feather against which his heart will be weighed. If our man in the sun has a heart that weighs less than the feather, he's on his way to the afterlife!

On either end of the marker are sesen, or lotus flowers, the symbol of the sun, of creation and rebirth. Seems to go along with the whole thing. I may not have had ancient Egyptian in high school, but this is my bookmark story and I'm sticking to it. Unless of course I'm wrong, in which case I'll fix it.

Its a beautiful papyrus marker in any case, and I thank Anne Marie who was nice enough to present it to me after traveling to Egypt. Thanks Anne Marie!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

english 201

So I finished my astronomy survey class, UC Berkeley’s Astronomy C10: Introduction to General Astronomy by Alex Filippenko. It was pretty awesome. So I'm looking for something new, and I go back to iTunes U, where I found the course. I'm browsing around and I run into the literature category. Well here I am in the midst of Moby-Dick, stopping only to read Cyrano de Bergerac, right? Me thinks I'll have a go at English 201: Survey of English Literature, [will open iTunes link] from Dr. Catherine Carsley, at Montgomery County Community College.

There is one on-line lecture for each of the 17 weeks of the class, and Dr. Carsley notes that her 'face-to-face' class also discusses some of the same material, and I assume they meet more than once per week. So I listened to the first two lectures; the first was Intro to Old English, which was pretty cool, and the second was about Beowolf. So now I'm hooked. And, I've added Beowolf to my reading list. The sound quality was kind of crappy on the first one, but was fine on the second.

If you haven't taken advantage of iTunes U, you should check it out. I've got the time to listen to these because I spend a fair amount of time on the road. I don't think I could find the time at home, even if I could get near a computer. Did I mention that iTunes U is free?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

cyrano de bergerac

I know, I was supposed to read Cyrano in high school, along with a bunch of other classic literature. I don't know what to tell you. I didn't.

The version I just read: Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, translated in verse by poet Brian Hooker, for the actor Walter Hampden, was great. The title page notes this as "An Heroic Comedy in Five Acts" and I guess I'd have to agree, but only up to a point. I think my problem with this description is that it is neither broad, nor deep enough, to encompass all that this little play is.

I felt like I knew the story of Cyrano, from my exposure to it in pop culture. I've paused at the old black and white movies on Sunday afternoons, heard the nose jokes a thousand different times, I saw the Steve Martin/Daryl Hannah movie; Roxanne, the Cyrano movie of my time. I've even read my fair share of plays, even a few of Shakespeare's. And yet, I was still surprised at the depth of character development and feeling Rostand was able to create in so few words. Rostand creates a tone, a mood, that quickly caught me up. It wasn't until the last act, that I focused on the stage direction at the beginning of each act, and realized that these bits were really important. The setting descriptions are fantastic in both their brevity and their ability to set the mood for Rostand's players to tell their story.

I wouldn't normally choose one classic to read after another, never mind take a break from one (Moby-Dick) for another, but that's exactly what I did. Two words: good choice. Read this book.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

northborough bookmark

The Northborough Free Library doesn't have the problems they list on this 2001 bookmark anymore. Although I helped with the study for this project years ago, I wasn't directly involved in its final design and construction other than to help out with some of the preservation and specifications stuff. This did involve climbing onto the roof with a co-worker with the help of the Northborough Fire Department, and Ladder-1. Which was, as you can imagine, AWESOME!

The existing building was much as its shown in the drawing at the top of the bookmark, but the bulk of the existing space was to the rear of this lovely, old granite building. The original building was like very many other small libraries of the era: center entrance, into a formal lobby, reading rooms to the right and left, circulation desk straight ahead, between you and the bookstack wing to the rear. One stepped to the desk and requested one's books, and then took a seat and waited for them to be delivered by the librarian.

This original building had been added onto at the rear, and the small bookstack wing was just an anti-room to the rest of the building. On the main floor, the addition wasn't so bad: the ceilings were high and the windows were big. But on the lower level, there was a concrete block wall every 18 feet, which ran left to right across the entire building with only a doorway or two to pass through. These walls, rather than columns and beams, supported the second floor and so couldn't be removed.

Because of the block bearing walls on the lower floor, the children's department was as series of small rooms, with no way to see from one to the next. And because the main entrance had been moved to the rear, closer to the parking, this lower floor was now where the main lobby and circulation desk was. Throw in the fact that the exterior walls were also concrete block, with no insulation, and you've got an unhelpful addition, that had served its purpose, and now was in the way, because there is no way to effectively renovate it. So the new addition/renovation scheme called for this addition to be removed.

After we completed the study, a few years went by, funds were raised, taxpayers supported the project, and accepted a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. So we designed an addition, and it was completed last year. I'm always amazed at how much work goes into a project before folks like us or builders, ever enter the picture.

Monday, February 8, 2010

somerville reads

I am very happy to report that my logo design was selected by the Somerville Public Library in a recent contest for their upcoming "One City, One Book" campaign, scheduled for Spring! Sweet. Just being involved was great fun, being selected blows me away! Thanks to everyone in my office who helped, and offered great advice; it wouldn't have come out as it did without your help.

I heard about their call for entries from a friend who has her eye on these sorts of things, and found the invitation on the library's Yahoo Groups notice board. So I figured I'd give it a go. The library regularly runs programs to encourage reading and readership in the community, and this Spring, the idea is to get as many people in the city as possible, to read the same book, thereby giving the community both a common goal, and something to discuss. Its designed to build community through the power of reading, by essentially turning the whole city into one big reading group. Brilliant!

The idea behind my logo design is simple: I'm trying to express plurality in reading, and what better than an image of a reader, with others reading on. I tried to come up with an image that connects with people's experiences. Who among us hasn't had someone read over their shoulder, or done so to someone else. This is a case where, not only is it encouraged (if only in spirit), but it could make Somerville a better place to live and work as well.

According to the library's Winter 2010 Newsletter [download .pdf file], the book they've chosen is The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, which they describe as "a collection of related stories about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War." They also say that a variety of things are planned around the city in late March and April.

I'm looking forward to reading it... and I'm hoping I can buy a T-shirt. And good luck to the Library, and best wishes for a successful campaign. I'm glad to be a small part of it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

moby dick i

Moby-Dick or The Whale, was written by Herman Melville as one of a series of novels, loosely based on his travels as a sailor earlier in his life. And while the earlier stories, such as Typee and Omoo, were more embellished autobiography, Moby-Dick--started 5 years or so later than these earlier works--is merely informed by Melville's experiences at sea.

What got me from the beginning, is the surprising style and the humor, which I was not expecting. Moby-Dick is written in first-person ("Call me Ishmael"), and the narrator quickly draws the reader into the seamy world of 19th century whaling in Nantucket; complete with salty dialect, observations of the characters that pervade the whaling trade; written in an expositional, almost diaristic fashion. Our Ishmael seems to chatter on about just about anything that catches his fancy, turns his head, or worries his soul. To a point where, the chapter structure is very much like entries in a journal, and seems to focus on not only moving the story forward, but in some cases, pausing to look at certain subjects more carefully. These pauses in the narrative, however, rather than slowing it down, actually seem to be building tension, laying the groundwork, and keying up the dread that is sure to come when the great leviathan eventually does arrive.

Some of these chapters are essays in and of themselves, on various related subjects, and include a treatise on the classification of whales and their relative value to the Nantucket whaler; various in-depth studies of characters in the story (think Henry James); and most recently, a discussion of the "Whiteness of the Whale" and how it is the very whiteness of the beast that is most appalling and inspires such dread. This chapter goes on for 8 pages, and points out all of those other things that are white, which inspire feelings of purity and cleanliness, from brides, to angels, to sacrificial animals, set against the whiteness of the terrible polar bear and great white shark, which by their very violation of these feelings of purity, more deeply trouble us as aberrations. Ishmael seems to be whispering, his eyes agog: 'Just think about it. Its weird, right?'

These pauses are typically short, some only a page long, and rather than detract, I think that they are slowly building tension in the story, and dread for the whale, which is indeed beginning to rise to an almost mythical stature in my mind. The popularity of Moby-Dick, since not long after it was written, has given the whale a mythic, pop-culture stature anyway, but only in this first third of the book, I feel as though I could be one of those old salts down at the Peter Coffin House, croaking about the terrible white whale, through the blue haze of pipe smoke and ale breath. Oh yeah, and then there's Ahab!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the list

So I started this list. Its actually a series of lists of the books that I've read sorted into categories, from my favorites, down to the dregs. After spending some time putting these lists together, it occurs to me that, one, I really don't remember what I've read, and two, I'm sure I've read some really good books that aren't getting their fair shake.

So, how to fix it? Yeah...not sure about that one yet. I thought that maybe I should take it down and rack my brains, but quickly concluded that if I can't remember how old I am, then brain-racking won't result in much. I could just skip it altogether, but it seems like a good thing to have--maybe not for you, I'm not sure, but for me, yeah, I won't have to remember anymore. And that's what logs are for, am I right?

So, now I'm thinking that I'll just leave it there. It doesn't take up much space; it hangs out down on the lower part of the right-hand column. If you'd like to take a peek, great; if you have a comment, stick it anywhere, I'm sure I'll find it, its quiet around here. And when I remember some of the old stuff, I'll add it. It won't ever be everything. I don't think it matters much that I read Logan's Run or The Bears and I, back in Junior High School. (They were both pretty good by the way.) And I think a representative list is more to the point.

So, I may change out some of the titles at some point, as I remember books that better represent the cross section of my reading experience. Who knows, maybe I'll scrap the whole thing. If you've got an opinion let me know. And in answer to the question: can you start all four paragraphs in a four paragraph blog entry with the word 'so'? The answer dear friends, I'm happy to report, is yes.