Saturday, November 26, 2011

The President Goes Shopping

Amidst all the exhortations to go shopping at the megastores for big ticket electronics, here’s a story that made me feel good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On the importance of libraries

A few weeks ago I visited the People’s Library in Zuccotti Park, the once and perhaps future headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street movement in NYC. I was impressed by how well organized the library was and that it included a children’s section. To me the existence of the library serves as evidence of the need every thinking person has for the ideas, comfort, and diversion provided by books, regardless of their circumstances.

On Wednesday the city cleared the park and took away the books. But this movement’s commitment to a library persists and yesterday the library went mobile, as group members wheeled shopping carts filled with books through lower Manhattan and intermittently set up offerings for protestors. For more on The People’s Library, supporters of the group, and photos from yesterday’s Day of Action,visit the"official" library blog. Laura, a librarian-in-training, who blogs at wmtc, offers another perspective and more detail on the philosophy behind the library here.  William Scott, an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh who spent his sabbatical working in the library, describes his experience in this issue of The Nation. (Thanks to CA for bringing the article to my attention.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pop Quiz!

Quite a while ago I happened on a blog post by Robert Armitage of the New York Public Library. Mr. Armitage writes evocative, highly readable posts on the NYPL blog about writers, libraries, films, New York City and the fate of the paper-and-cardboard books in the age of e-readers. 

He also publishes the occasional quiz, one of which served as my introduction to his work. The “Reader, I married him” literary quiz is not only a fun way to test yourself—see how many of these quotations you can identify—but is also likely to bring back memories of works you’ve read or enjoyed, as well as those you’d like to pick up at your next visit to the library.  Mr. Armitage also challenges readers with a “He Said/She Said” literary quiz (see if you can identify whether the author is male or female) and for film buffs, the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” quiz!

Extra Credit: Can you name the play, the role, and the actor?

Note: My scores on Mr. Armitage’s quizzes were, respectively, a humbling 13 out of 25 correct responses on the ID-the-literary-work quiz and a more satisfactory 12 out of 15 answers correct on the gender quiz!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“…in the winter of my great down-and-outness…”

(Virtual Libraries – Part II: Library of America)

So the first-person narrator establishes the tone of Tomorrow, the haunting short story by Eugene O’Neill that originally appeared in Seven Arts magazine in 1917. The story describes a week or so in the lives of a group of men, heavy drinkers who are barely getting by, and who find solace in small moments of camaraderie and fantasies of the future.

Were it not for the Library of America (LOA), chances are I wouldn’t have come across Tomorrow. You may know the LOA as the nonprofit publisher and bookseller of distinctive-looking volumes*  of famous works by American writers including   James Agee, William Faulkner, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few. But they’re also the source of a free Story of the Week, a subscription service that introduces readers to short stories, essays, and poems, drawn from the publisher’s collections.

Eugene O'Neill, author of Tomorrow

Not long ago the link to Tomorrow arrived in my mailbox with a well-written introduction that explained that although O’Neill intended the work to be the first in a series of stories about these characters, this was the only one published. From the introduction:
Fans of O’Neill’s plays—and especially of The Iceman Cometh—will recognize several of the characters and themes in the story, some of which is autobiographical.  
Although the ending of Tomorrow won’t surprise you, it’s well worth reading for a demonstration of O’Neill’s talent as a writer of narrative and the flashes of hope and tenderness that persist against a background of desolation. You can read Tomorrow here, and find a list and links to more than 70 other free texts by well-known authors as well as those whose reputations may no longer shine as brightly as they once did. Go here for a free subscription to the Story of the Week.

Edith Wharton and...

...Ambrose Bierce, two of the many authors
to be found in the LOA collections.

The LOA web site also offers access to on-line exhibits through their Authors in Depth feature. I recently viewed one on the centennial celebration of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which presents a range of interesting artifacts from the life of this Yiddish (Polish-born) writer and introduced me to the works of his novelist brother, Israel Joshua Singer. (Interestingly, Israel Singer was originally considered the better writer. Moreover, it was only after his death that I.B. Singer became widely admired in the United States, eventually winning the Nobel Prize.)

* LOA books are distributed by the Penguin group and often feature a photo of the author against a black background and a horizontal red, white and blue stripe.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Happy Ending…

For now. St. Mark’s Bookshop, which was in danger of closing owing to their inability to pay rent to landlord Cooper Union, has been issued a reprieve. A rent reduction from $20,000 a month to about $17,500, and forgiveness of back rent due, will allow the store to stay open.

Here's the official word on the status of the bookshop:
St. Mark's Bookshop and The Cooper Union have reached an agreement which reduces our rent. This would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of our community. Over 44,000 people signed the petition to "Save St. Mark's Bookshop". We sincerely appreciate the efforts made by so many on our behalf. We especially want to thank Frances Goldin and Joyce Ravitch of the Cooper Square Committee, and Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough president.

Long Live Books and Readers! (11.07.11)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Rare View of the Supreme Court Library

A Guest Post from Eljay

If, when in Washington,  you attend a session of the U.S. Supreme Court (hearings are open to the public), you might see one of the Justices sending an aide to get relevant material from the Library upstairs. It was not always this convenient, as my LL (law librarian) friend and I learned on a recent tour.

In the first years (the Jay and early Marshall courts), the Justices had to use their own books or borrow from colleagues until, in 1812, they were given access to the U.S. Congress collection. Twenty years later, an Act of Congress created a Law Library for both Congress and the Court, with the Chief Justice able to suggest acquisitions.

Fast forward 100 years to 1932 when the eminent architect Cass Gilbert was commissioned to design a new Court Building with its own library. Although the Depression argued against lavish expenditure, the resourceful Gilbert managed to design and oversee construction of a building that is now one of D.C.’s prime attractions.

The United States Supreme Court at Dusk
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cass Gilbert, the architect of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gilbert's other work includes two beautiful landmark buildings in New York City: the Woolworth
building (the world's tallest building for over a decade) and the U.S. Customs House.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Library itself features a handsome oak-paneled Reading Room with a painted ceiling and, at the entry, carved profiles of Greek and Roman law-givers – Justinian, Solon, Modestinus and Draco (we had to look them up). A barrel-vaulted Special Library room, designed to hold rare volumes, now houses the Technical Services Division charged with microfilming and digitalizing materials. Another room holds bound copies of every case ever heard by the Court.
Among the Library’s many decorative elements are carved 16th century printers’ marks and five sculpted figures symbolizing Science, Law and Industry (these are male) and Arts and Knowledge (female). While pondering that, we were given a glimpse of the building’s  beautiful twin marble winding staircases and, on the top floor, what is whimsically called “the highest court in the land” – a basketball court for the staff.

Our impressive journey ended with the thought that this unique library is there to enable our third branch of government to better fulfill the promise inscribed on the building’s facade, “Equal Justice Under Law”.

Note: The U.S. Congress, with its own vast library of over 3,000,000 volumes, covers foreign as well as U.S. jurisdictions, and is open to the public. Further note: when you visit the Supreme Court building, take time to look into the bookshop; gavel pencils are a favorite.