The thingness of books, especially of many books kept in a small space, stacked high without rhyme or reason, can become impressive. I worry about being oppressed by the books I own––quite different from being oppressed by the ownership of books. There are days when I am certainly very oppressed by the presence of so many books in such a small space. There is really no more room for me with them around, just as there is no room for more books with me around. Yet I keep introducing new books, and reintroducing books that have either fallen or been misplaced and have now been picked up or found, or those I have lent (both with relief at the extra space and with apprehension at never seen them again) and that have just been returned to me. So now: loads and loads of books everywhere, and the fear that they will all come falling down one moment as I am passing through (or edging through) or sitting or (worse) dozing in my armchair, and that I or (more so) that they might be injured in the fall. The idea of all those books tipping over or (even) a shelf detaching itself from the wall and crashing to the floor, is positively nerve-wracking. Every time a book is taken off the shelf, transposed or put back I feel I am pushing my luck. I have so far been unusually lucky in avoiding an avalanche of book matter. I do believe a little order goes a long way, and that the ordering of books and maintaining always some semblance of order are possibly the best way of obviating the clutter typical of book-laden apartments. One really cannot speak of a book collection without having taken stock and organized and subjected one’s books to a more or less logical and consistent access-and-retrieval system. And apartments where the number of books impedes one’s access to them and exceeds a sustainable human-to-book ratio, books attract a frightful degree of clutter in a category unto itself. If it were merely dust and cobwebs everything would still be manageable; but a book heaven that has not been whipped into shape invites its owner to let go of themselves, is an invitation to physical sloth, if not intellectual sloth and downright mental confusion (too many books in too much chaos too often proves deadly for a thinking brain). The typical flat where books predominate, hence a space dominated by books, sooner or later adapts to the physical dimensions of books and reconfigures itself to accommodate even more of them––that is, ceases to be a flat and becomes a library. The sole occupant of such a space is, properly speaking, sharing accommodation. Without realizing it, this inhabitant has already given up many of the advantages of living alone. For starters, there is the uncontrollable, self-begetting clutter. You can deceive yourself that you could straighten up any day, but the mess that comes with the preponderance of books is addictive and ineradicable. It takes considerable exertion of the will to alter this reality. Similarly you may claim to be free to move out any day, to leave the mass and cramped conditions behind, but the truth is only too material: you are not going anywhere as long as you hold on to this many books. There is finally, the sheer lack of space for independent thought. These towers of intellect are known for their diminishing effects. You feel dwarfed both physically and mentally, and when this inequality in stature becomes too great you are done for as an independent thinker. Intellectual inferiority won’t let you scale the shoulders of giants to see further than them.
Book shelves series #51, fifty-first Sunday of 2012
I am very ready for this project to be over. Two more weeks.
At this point, I’ve photographed all book shelves (and other bookbearing surfaces) in the house, but clearly the book shelves aren’t stable.
I mean, structurally, sure, they’re stable.
But their content shifts.
So this week (having three weeks left to fill), I go back to a sitting room in the front of the house where I like to read.
Above, resting on this cabinet, some current reading, including the latest DFW collection and Chris Ware’s Building Stories.
Below, a coffee table (first photographed in #7 of this series):
As usual, a few coffee table books, plus several review copies that I need to look at sometime next week:
One of the coffee table books is by Thomas Bernhard:
To the right of the case, a bin of books—mostly review copies that come in that I plan to write more about:
Book shelves series #48, forty-eighth Sunday of 2012
Another doublestocked shelf: The front stack (on the right) are all books I’ve been intending to read at some point, or been reading slowly or piecemeal. Behind and to the left: Lots of old hardbacks—some Yeats, some H.G. Wells, Arthurian legends, and Shakespeare-related texts. A totally misshelved and out-of date Lonely Planet guide (why is it there?). Some Asimov. A few faves:
Read Shannon Mattern’s great essay “Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins” (published at Places). From the essay:
These new library projects might seem to emerge from a common culture and uphold a common mission — a flurry of press coverage in late 2011 represented them as a coherent “little library” movement. But in fact they don’t. They have varied aims and politics and assumptions about what a library is and who its publics are; their collections and services differ significantly; and their forms and functions vary from one locality to another. I want to attempt here to identify a loose, and inevitably leaky, typology of “little libraries” — to figure out where they’re coming from, how they relate to existing institutions that perform similar roles, and what impact they’re having on their communities.
Check out Robert Dawson’s images of American libraries at Places. Evocative and even poignant in an age when libraries are under threat in this country, Dawson’s images remind us that libraries are, on one hand a monument to our culture and civilization, and, on the other hand, often the outposts of that civilization.
Civil rights lawyer H Candace Gorman sent the library an Arabic edition of a Harry Potter book herself because it did not have all of the published titles and her client, the Libyan national Abdul al-Ghizzawi, was keen to keep up with the boy wizard’s adventures. “The guards were telling him things that had happened in the book, but he didn’t know if it was true or not,” she told Time. Ghizzawi saw similarities between his own situation and that of the prisoners of Azkaban, and between George W Bush and Voldemort, she said.
Biblioklept Interviews Librarian Josh Jubinsky about the Jacksonville Public Library’s Zine Collection
Jacksonville Public Library’s Zine Collection is one of the first–and largest– such collections in the Southeastern United States. Librarian and collection archivist Josh Jubinsky was kind enough to talk to Biblioklept about the collection, the essence of punk, the future of zines in an increasingly technologically-mediated world, and the million-fart bill. We corresponded via email, although we could have done the interview in person easily–in full disclosure, I should mention that Josh lives down the street from Biblioklept World Headquarters.
Biblioklept: What is a zine?
Josh Jubinsky: A zine is a self-published pamphlet that ranges in format, size and topic. Although zines are clearly something dating back to the chapbooks of beat poets, to early science fiction fanzines and writings, to the 1960′s super hero comic zines such as Alter Ego which help spearhead a comics industry focusing more of masked avengers than horror and romance stories – my involvement with them has been only over the last 10 or so years and from a predominantly punk background. Whether the zines are music fanzines, literary journalistic diatribe, or DIY projects of a particular focus they are grounded largely in a punk music subculture and involve some sort of activism or simply an independent alternative media appeal. Physically speaking, a zine is typically a stack of 8 1/2 x 11 paper folded in half and stapled along the folded edge – although size and format does drastically vary.
B: Tell us a little bit about the Zine Collection at the Jacksonville Library.
JJ: The collection at the library had it’s grand opening party during the October Artwalk of 2009. It was started mostly on donations we had accumulated from my contacts from having a record store and distro [Deadtank distribution -- ed.] (the store for 2 years, and the distro about 8.). We’ve gotten some funding from the library that, while it may not be much money compared to many other library activities, it goes a long way when you’re purchasing zines that cost $1-$2 a piece. Everything in the collection circulates, nothing is purely a reference material. As of now we have about 500 zines, and most everything has been checked out at least once. The circulation stats are great considering the size of the collection, averaging around 100 – 150 items a month.
Personally, it’s become a great vehicle for me to branch out into other programming at the library. I work in children’s library so in the past my programming outlets were confined to children’s programming – storytimes, outreaches to schools. I took that and applied my personal tastes and preferences to the job by teaching guitar lessons, doing classes on bike repair and safety, getting a children’s band together and having kids play all the instruments à la Rock Camp. But that sort of personal job molding increases tenfold when you can do programming in the name of the zine collection. The outreaches are to the Harvest of Hope Festival, to Cinema Sounds, to punk rock shows in warehouses. The programs are bands playing and zine authors reading or being part of a panel discussion. And that focuses back on my being in the children’s department. I started and now run a weekly creative writing and comic drawing class for kids called Zine Machine. The projects the kids work on get put into a zine that becomes part of the library collection. We’re not just creating library patrons, we’re creating authors.
B: Zine Machine sounds really cool. What are some of the things the kids are writing about?
JJ: The first issue was just completed. It’s writings, collages, comics, etc. from January to April. The writing covers everything from short bios on themselves (with self-portraits of course) to designing a car. Some writing prompts are for basic journal entries, writing a review of a book, movie, or video game, asking things like what sot of super powers they’d like to have and why, describing how they think libraries could be better. . . It’s really interesting to see what kids come up with and how they approach the writing and the comics. The class is for kids ages 8-13, though I can’t seem to say no to the 7 years olds that show up. To talk about the difference between a magazine and a zine and have the kids understand that – to be exposed to what an advertisement is and why they are in magazines – to learn about why zines are important and how hey can do this themselves – it’s all really empowering for anybody, especially young kids. Before these kids even have it ingrained in them that “writing is hard” or “what you do isn’t good enough” or “it’s hard to get published” – they are learning and experiencing the opposite. The next issue won’t be from as long a time period of writing.
We’re focusing all month on a single project of designing a country. They are drawing maps, flags, and currency, making laws and deciding things like the country motto and tree. I am so excited about it. The variations in projects from kid to kid are so vast. The variation is amazingly refreshing – amazingly unique- for someone who’s only been alive for 8 years. Some kids have currency that is all based on roman numerals they look up, and others – the king of the country “Only Boys!” has currency based on farts. Everything from a 5 fart coin to a 1,000,000 fart bill. The class is hilarious and fun.
B: I guess you know you’ve made it when your face is on the million-fart bill.
One of the things I like about zines is that they tend to be the products of a very personal, different perspective; they tend to be obsessive and weird. Do you have any particular favorites from the collection you could highlight for us?
JJ: One that I really enjoyed and I wish I saw more of is A La Maison. It’s a french zine, written in English though. It’s a guide to the city of Lyon, France by some people who live there. Definitely a punk perspective on the city, maybe like a punk travel guide. It goes through the city section by section with what bars, falafel places and record stores are best. And it comes with a CDR of all these bands from Lyon. It’s amazing. The people who put out the zine set up a show for my band [Josh is in about seventy bands --ed.] when we toured Europe. I got the zine for the library when their band came through Florida on tour. Touring with your band selling a zine and CDR for a few bucks, advertising how awesome your town is – it’s amazing. Another favorite of mine is a zine called Snakepit. It’s perfect for the short attention span comic reader. Books compiling the issues focus on an entire year of his life, where every three panels is a day. Some Florida ones I love are America? by Travis Fristoe and Seven Inches to Freedom by Joe Lachut. Travis is just an amazing writer that I can’t recommend enough. Joe’s zine is primarily about music, record collecting in terms of hardcore punk. We have the book version of Zine Yearbook 9; it’s a good “best of” type-thing that helps find what you like.
B: You bring up punk music, which many people closely associate with zines. What about non-punk zines? Or is zine-making punk in and of itself, despite aesthetics/ideology/taste/style?
JJ: We’re getting into really loaded words here, and I don’t think a conversation about what I think is punk and not punk will be too helpful for anyone. But yes, there are plenty of “non-punk” zines in terms of subject matter. Though to me they almost all seem like something punk – indeed not by musical interest, but an aesthetic appeal or just the fact that you’re doing a zine. People may not identify with being punk in some way, but if you do a zine you have a lot in common with punk. In terms of like doing it yourself, being part of a grassroots publishing world – in part, the medium is the message. I can’t really separate myself from that, although lots of bizarre gray areas exist. Are those little religious pamphlets people leave at the post office punk? Are these zines? That’s people expressing themselves, right? And they are sharing there thoughts at a grassroots level. Essentially, they already have the most published book in the world working for them. Take for example the Zine Machine zine. Nine year old kids aren’t automatically punk for contributing to a zine. But more punk than a kid who didn’t, maybe? It’s a very empowering exercise. It’d definitely be appreciated by anyone I’d consider punk. Does that sound too insular?
The zine collection is definitely helping me to branch out and find zines that aren’t somehow tied to the music scene I’m part of, to find zines besides fanzines, or amazing literary zines that are of course full of punk culture references or that I first got into because I know the author some other way (his or her band, label, meeting them at a show). Being a part of creating this is helping me understand it all more.
B: Why are zines important or meaningful in the age of the blogging? How are zines different than blogs? Is technology bad for zines? What’s the future of zines?
JJ: Maybe this sounds like an overused reason for me (since it’s the same main reason I give when people ask why I have records), but, essentially that zines are tangible. Personally, that tangibility helps me remember them. I can barely tell you what I read online yesterday, but I can tell you about the book or zine I’m reading. You can bring zines along when you go on a tour or go fishing or go to the bathroom or sit in the park – and you don’t have to have an expensive device you must charge to read them. They also exude a sense of time and place. A zine is self-contained, obviously not in literary or musical references, but you can’t get bored with it and click to an updated version. You can’t add it to your blog reader. Like a record, it’s not convenient. It’s romantic. You aren’t jogging while listening to an audio book – you aren’t trying to maximize productivity. You sit, enjoy and get fresh air at the same time.
The interruptions are minuscule compared to reading something online. Right now as people are reading this I bet they have other windows open – your friend messaging you, some work you need to finish, your email. These readers won’t read this without clicking over to something else. What sort of compromises are we making, as readers, with this convenience? How much are we losing from what we really want to be doing by always trying to do something else in tandem? Technology isn’t bad for zines, it’s just different. Blogs and zines, these have very different cultures around them. You used to mail order zines from a paper catalog or get them at your local record store. Those catalogs are gone. Those stores stay open largely because some kid who doesn’t care about his credit is paying rent on his credit card, or people live in the back room. I’m not saying any of this is good or bad, it’s just different. The idea of convenience is literally changing our landscape. Sometimes it’s more convenient to work around modern day conveniences, and even when it’s not, you want to because it’s what you love. Zines help me relax. I like [love -- ed.] your blog and I have one too, but – the internet is so full of crap. It just adds to the rushed feeling of our days. Increasingly days are becoming more and more just a series of errands and obligations. When I want to read something, I don’t want to be in front of the same machine, sitting in the same position, probably at the same place, that I do work at.
I see the future of zines as a larger part of what Jacksonville and Florida is about. Our collection here is great and items circulate rampantly. On the librarian level, we just presented at the Florida Library Association conference to roaring optimism. People are scheduling us to teach classes about how to start a zine collection. I’m hoping the local populous answers this collection’s existence, answers the authors whose work are represented with works of their own. What you do, what you write, what you create can be part of the library. It’s not lowering the bar for what we catalog – we use the same standards any other department does. It’s adjusting the aperture of our collection. We’re letting in more light, more opinions, more voices. The goal of a library it is to create equality, to level the playing field. Any economic background or any ethnic group, the library is here for you to use. Now, more than ever, it’s here not just for its community to become it’s patron, but part of its collection.
B: Have you ever stolen a book?
JJ: How dare you! I work at a library!
In Hitler’s Private Library, Timothy W. Ryback works from Walter Benjamin’s assertion that “a private library serves as a permanent and credible witness to the character of its collector.” Ryback delves into the books–the actual, physical books–that Hitler studied and pondered, paying particular attention to the dictator’s annotations and marginalia. To be sure, there are plenty of political tracts–especially anti-Semitic writings, such as Henry Ford’s The International Jew–to be found in Hitler’s library, but far more fascinating is Ryback’s analysis of Hitler’s love for Robinson Crusoe, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of all books. Hitler’s taste was varied–there’s an early infatuation with Max Osborn’s Berlin, an architectural guide to that city, an obsession with Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, and Hitler’s final day’s poring over a biography of Frederick the Great (he also comforted himself in the final days of his regime by rereading his boyhood favorite Karl May).
The Nazi party’s lurid mania for occultism is well documented, but Ryback brings a fresh perspective here, eschewing tabloid histrionics in favor of a measured approach to Hitler’s volumes of bizarre and arcane works. More troubling is the public misconception that the works of Schopenhauer and Nietchzsche some how gave philosophical weight to the Nazi’s crime spree; Ryback eliminates that notion:
For all the talk of Hitler’s exploitation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s concepts of the “master race” or Arthur Schopenhauer’s notion of the “will to power” that Hitler used to headline the 1934 party rally and Riefenstahl cribbed as a title for her cinematic chronicle of the event, we have little credible evidence of Hitler’s personal engagement with serious philosophy. Most of what we know is tenuous and at best anecdotal.
In short, Hitler was a poseur who recontextualized bit parts of great thinkers into mind-numbing sloganeering for his own ends (luckily, no politicians today would be so crude). Ryback’s even-handedness here is indicative of the project of his book: his is not a psychological study; he never seeks to explain the motivations for Hitler’s evil actions, but rather report what Hitler read closely. What we get in the end is an historicized, contextualized account of a bibliophile who initiated book burnings and mandated reading lists.
Hitler’s Private Library is really a book about books and how what we read shapes and then testifies to who we are and what we did in our life. I am not particularly interested in Hitler or the (well-documented) history of WWII, but I found in Hitler’s Private Library both a fascinating dialogic analysis as well as a new narrative take on some pretty stale material. The philosophy of Walter Benjamin permeates Ryback’s book, which is also a big plus. I’m not sure if the world needs another book about WWII, but I’m always a sucker for books about books. Recommended.
Hitler’s Private Library is available in hardback and ebook on October 21st, 2008 from Knopf.
We know Sarah Palin loves to read. In a great op/ed piece in today’s Washington Post, Ruth Marcus writes:
Asked in an interview for PBS’s Charlie Rose show last year (http://www.charlierose.com/guests/sarah-palin) about her favorite authors, Palin cited C.S. Lewis — “very, very deep” — and Dr. George Sheehan, a now-deceased writer for Runner’s World magazine whose columns Palin still keeps on hand.
“Very inspiring and very motivating,” she said. “He was an athlete and I think so much of what you learn in athletics about competition and healthy living that he was really able to encapsulate, has stayed with me all these years.”
Also, she got a Garfield desk calendar for Christmas 1987 that made a big impression.
Great stuff. Who doesn’t love to read? Books is where you gets knowledge. However, Palin is the sort of fundamentalist hardliner who thinks she knows what’s best for all of us to read–or not read. By now, you’ve probably heard of the pressure Palin exerted on the librarian of Wasilla. As mayor, Palin inquired how she might go about removing books from the library. Of course, according to most reports, including this one from The Anchorage Daily News earlier this month, “Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting.”
Huh. Hard to imagine that Palin didn’t get specific, right?
Palin then wrote the librarian in question a letter telling her she would be fired for lack of loyalty. Although public outcry prevented the firing, the librarian eventually moved away from Wasilla. Palin said at the time, and has maintained since then, that the question was “rhetorical”; she simply wanted to know how one would go about removing “objectionable” books.
Why would you ask how to remove books if you had no intention of removing them?
It’s too easy to dismiss Palin’s inquiries into censorship. Her moralistic will to ban what others read is really an attempt to control ideas, to control thoughts, to control bodies even–the ultimate goal of the far Christian right. It’s the middle of Banned Book’s Week, and it’s time to say “No” to the vacuous (a)moralizing of those like Palin who would presume to dictate what is and is not acceptable to be loaned in a public library. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let a woman who apparently believes that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time” tell me what to think or feel or read.
Banned Books Week calls attention to not only the great currency of ideas we have in literature, but to also points out that there are still those who seek to suppress ideas with which they don’t agree. Even as we celebrate these books, we must attack those who would ban them–especially those who work so surreptitiously.
Witold Rybczynski’s “Borrowed Time,” an interesting photo-essay published at Slate today, considers the architecture, purpose, and meaning of libraries in the “”digital world” of Google, Wikipedia, and Kindle.” Rybczynski’s essay is typical Slate writing–it picks at its topic a little bit, rifles through a few examples, and ends with an empty platitude.
The article cites Jacksonville’s own new downtown branch among several examples of a new direction in library building, arguing that the “library building boom of the last two decades is closely tied to efforts to rejuvenate downtowns. Cities can’t re-create the department stores, movie palaces, and manufacturing lofts that once made downtowns the vital centers of American metropolitan life, so they build convention centers, ballparks, museums, and concert halls instead.” Rybczynski concedes that “Retro ballparks have enjoyed success with the public,” but insists that the days of “library-as-monument” are over. Instead, he sees the library of the future as more of a social meeting place, a community center with internet access, coffee shops, and magazines–with less and less room for books.
Although the trend that Rybczynski points out does evince a change in both the architecture and organization of the library–a trend that does reflect (relatively) recent changes in technology–I just don’t see the library losing its monumental status. Rather, I think that 21st-century notions, concepts, and constructions of what exactly a society should monumentalize, and how that culture should monumentalize whatever it decides it should monumentalize (whether it’s a sports arena, a church, a library, or a shopping mall) are changing. The purpose of a library–extending all the way back to the Library at Alexandria–is akin to (and yet, of course, different from) the purposes of churches and art and science museums: libraries serve as a nexus of a culture’s collected knowledge, and as a point of access to that knowledge. This is why the concept of a public library is extremely important, indeed vital, to a free and democratic society. Just because greater access to technology holds the possibility of displacing books does not mean that books will disappear forever and that museums will have to suddenly become glorified Starbucks. Change is normal, and a library that fails to reflect the zeitgeist of its age would cease to become a library (it would be a history museum). And yet the core mission of public libraries will (and should) remain as long as people endeavor to enter the epochs-old conversation that is human culture.
Improbably, Rybczynski cites the “Extinction Timeline” created last year by What’s Next and Future Exploration Network as evidence that the library will certainly disappear (in 2019). While this type of thinking is fun–and I certainly get a kick out of the “Extinction Timeline”–it belongs to the realm of science fiction, not cultural criticism. Although much of what the Extinction Timeline predicts will almost certainly come about (how much longer can printed telephone directories last?) I suspect that more than half of it is tongue-in-cheek. Will “Childhood” really disappear in 2030? Will “Sit down breakfasts” become insignificant? Can “Natural Childbirth” really go away by 2038? If these guys are serious, this is teleological thinking at its worst. But perhaps I’m ludicrously old fashioned. After all, I still think that “Mending Things” (“Existence insignificant” as of 2009) is both important and worthwhile, and, in a more abstract sense, both healthy and good for people. And I’ll be mending things in 2009.
If our libraries need to be mended, or amended, rather, let’s change them in ways that suitably monumentalize and grant access to our culture. I think that the Jacksonville library alluded to in Rybczynski’s article monumentalizes the best aspects of human culture and technology, and is more than just, as Rybczynski suggests, an “urban hangout” or mere “arbiter of information.” And even if, like the Seattle Public Library, the Jacksonville Public Library is full of “street people” (Rybczynski’s contemptuous term), significantly, it is, as its stairwell mural proudly declares, “OPEN TO ALL”–a monument to democratic and egalitarian access to information.