M Lake BPL Visit

    Working at the Boston Public Library was definitely a unique experience. I had been there only once before, on New Year’s Eve, but did not get a real chance to look around too much because they were close to closing. I did make it to the room outside the rare book study room, though, which I thought was sort of a strange coincidence that I’d end up there again less than two months later. It is a huge building with tons of nooks and crannies, but that is where I’d ended up.
    I’ve always had a thing for old books, but I think some of these were really older than I am used to. I love going to antique stores, and books are one of the things I always find myself drawn to. Books have always been an important part of culture – ever since people started writing things down – and I like the idea that we can hold and work with texts that were read, owned or handled by prominent literary figures of the past. Pencilled-in margin notes are fascinating even if you cannot fully decipher them. They seem to make the book living and breathing with its own opinions and comments. The copy of William Shakespeare’s Much Adoe about Nothing we encountered looked as if it had been owned by George Stevens, one of his eighteenth century editors. I went through every page reviewing the notes that he wrote. Although I could not read probably 85% of these notes because the script was so squished and scratchy, it was still infinitely cool that they existed. When I find interesting books in antique shops I immediately look for marginalia inside because, for me, it brings the past to life.
    These texts are obviously extant, but I still think it’s sort of sad to see the pages deteriorating right before our eyes. The big catalogues were falling apart, loose pages everywhere and little rectangular pieces of page snapped off from the edges so you could not even tell which side belonged at the seam and which belonged on the outer edge. Nothing lasts forever, but I will say I thought the pages of Much Adoe being pasted into a larger book to keep them intact was a genius idea. And when you have to handle the fragile texts with so much care, it really feels like you must really be doing something special. So many mysteries lie within the pages, and I think my antique book-love was gladly revamped.


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