Beautiful Libraries

A little Friday fantasia: in September of 2007 Curious Expeditions collected dozens of pictures of stunning old libraries in a post titled Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries, which was just sent to me by my old pal Magnolia. They’re incredible.

I’ve spent my entire life surrounded either by clean-lined modernism or an almost equally spare New England aesthetic, and it’s startling to be reminded that baroque and rococo (barococo?) confections like this were ever built, let alone on this scale and in such profusion. Likewise, information is now so ubiquitous, and incorporeal, and cheap, it’s jolting to think of a time when it was rare, and heavy, and expensive, and so justified the building of palaces like this to contain it.

Curious Expeditions says they’ll leave it to someone else to post a list of beautiful modern libraries, like Louis Kahn’s library at Exeter. If anyone knows of one, please let us know in the comments.

Staircase Bookcase

This is the least practical staircase ever. Tabbed treads to throw off eye and foot. Stripped lines all over the place, and in every plane, to toy with your depth perception. Clearly an ankle breaker.

As for the books, they must get punted all the time. And a typical stair riser is not more than 7″ high, which means nothing but smallish trade paperbacks under there.

Still, it’s totally awesome, and I want one. Park a bookinist at the top, and you’re in the catbird seat.

Book Ads in the NYTimes, 1962-1973

I missed it when it ran this summer, but in June Paper Cuts, the Times book blog, posted a slideshow of old book ads from what it called the “Golden Age” of book advertising.

Included are ads for a bunch of heavy hitters like Susan Sontag, Edna O’Brien, Cormac McCarthy, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, and Donald Barthelme. I’m not sure I’d call it a Golden Age–the books may be impressive, but the ads seem to have thrived then as now on hidebound cliché*. But there’s some good stuff there, and more than a few signs of the time: overt sexism, boomer self-importance, and everybody’s smoking.

Unfortunately a number of the images are poorly reproduced. Seems a shame, for a slideshow, especially one so otherwise intersting. Maybe we should all chip in a few bucks and get Paper Cuts a new scanner.

* A cliché, I know.

Depraved and Insulting English

The latest in the seemingly endless line of upper-middle brow treatises on bad words to come to my attention (thanks sionnach!) is Depraved and Insulting English, by Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea.

I haven’t read it yet, but judging from reviews and the tidbits sionnach has graced us with, many entries look almost medical–the authors seem to draw more on Latin and Greek than stalwart Anglo Saxon. Which probably makes it all the easier–and more fun!–to slip innocuous-sounding gems like lotium into conversation.

Kids Still Read

Fred Wilson has a post on his family’s media consumption in which he talks about his kids’ attitudes towards movies, TV (watched as often as not on DVD), the web, video games, radio, magazines, newspapers, and books.

For the most part it’s what I’d guess kids would be doing: watching video, playing games, spending time on Facebook. There are a few happy surprises, though. Magazines are holding their own. Hard to say how typical this is–I don’t have any insight into the health of the magazine industry–but it surprised me. I had assumed magazines were in the same world of hurt as newspapers.

Most notable, though, is that reading books is apparently alive and well at the Wilson’s: “They still read books the way we did as kids. That doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. They read them for school, they read them for entertainment, and they read them lying in bed waiting to be tired enough to turn off the lights.”

I found that absolutely uplifting, and anecdotal confirmation of something I’ve previously blogged: there is no replacement for long-form narrative text. Eventually that text may be displayed on an improved Kindle, as soon as someone (Apple or Amazon, most likely) gets it right. The exact delivery method doesn’t concern me much. But that kids still take pleasure in reading books? That concerns me greatly, and it’s great to hear of books holding their own in a home full of other glittering distractions.