literature

Jorge Luis Borges and #Book Suggestions

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Open Culture has a post listing the top 74 books, as suggested by Jorge Luis Borges, a reader should have in their personal library.

openculture(click on the image to be redirected to the posting at Open Culture)

Some of the items I am quite familiar with, but some I had not heard of – neither generally nor in connection with JLB.

Jorge Luis Borges’ terse, mind-expanding stories reshaped modern fiction. He was one of the first authors to mix high culture with low, merging such popular genres as science fiction and the detective story with heady philosophical discourses on authorship, reality and existence. His story “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” which describes a novel that is also a labyrinth, presaged the hypertextuality of the internet age. His tone of ironic detachment influenced generations of Latin American authors. The BBC argued that Borges was the most important writer of the 20th century.

Of course, Borges wasn’t just an author. When not writing fiction, Borges worked as a literary critic, occasional film critic, a librarian, and, for a spell, as the director of the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires. His tastes were famously eclectic….

1. Stories by Julio Cortázar (not sure if this refers to Hopscotch, Blow-Up and Other Stories, or neither)
2. & 3. The Apocryphal Gospels
4. Amerika and The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
5. The Blue Cross: A Father Brown Mystery by G.K. Chesterton
6. & 7. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
8. The Intelligence of Flowers by Maurice Maeterlinck
9. The Desert of the Tartars by Dino Buzzati
10. Peer Gynt and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
11. The Mandarin: And Other Stories by Eça de Queirós
12. The Jesuit Empire by Leopoldo Lugones
13. The Counterfeiters by André Gide
14. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
15. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
16. & 17. Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
18. Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner
19. The Great God Brown and Other Plays, Strange Interlude, and Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill
20. Tales of Ise by Ariwara no Narihara
21. Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
22. The Tragic Everyday, The Blind Pilot, and Words and Blood by Giovanni Papini
23. The Three Impostors
24. Songs of Songs tr. by Fray Luis de León
25. An Explanation of the Book of Job tr. by Fray Luis de León
26. The End of the Tether and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
27. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
28. Essays & Dialogues by Oscar Wilde
29. Barbarian in Asia by Henri Michaux
30. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
31. Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett
32. On the Nature of Animals by Claudius Elianus
33. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
34. The Temptation of St. Antony by Gustave Flaubert
35. Travels by Marco Polo
36. Imaginary lives by Marcel Schwob
37. Caesar and Cleopatra, Major Barbara, and Candide by George Bernard Shaw
38. Macus Brutus and The Hour of All by Francisco de Quevedo
39. The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts
40. Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
41. The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
42. The Lesson of the Master, The Figure in the Carpet, and The Private Life by Henry James
43. & 44. The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus by Herdotus
45. Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
46. Tales by Rudyard Kipling
47. Vathek by William Beckford
48. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
49. The Professional Secret & Other Texts by Jean Cocteau
50. The Last Days of Emmanuel Kant and Other Stories by Thomas de Quincey
51. Prologue to the Work of Silverio Lanza by Ramon Gomez de la Serna
52. The Thousand and One Nights
53. New Arabian Nights and Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
54. Salvation of the Jews, The Blood of the Poor, and In the Darkness by Léon Bloy
55. The Bhagavad Gita and The Epic of Gilgamesh
56. Fantastic Stories by Juan José Arreola
57. Lady into Fox, A Man in the Zoo, and The Sailor’s Return by David Garnett
58. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
59. Literary Criticism by Paul Groussac
60. The Idols by Manuel Mujica Láinez
61. The Book of Good Love by Juan Ruiz
62. Complete Poetry by William Blake
63. Above the Dark Circus by Hugh Walpole
64. Poetical Works by Ezequiel Martinez Estrada
65. Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
66. The Aeneid by Virgil
67. Stories by Voltaire
68. An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne
69. An Essay on Orlando Furioso by Atilio Momigliano
70. & 71. The Varieties of Religious Experience and The Study of Human Nature by William James
72. Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson
73. The Book of the Dead
74. & 75. The Problem of Time by J. Alexander Gunn”

(accessed 11 October 2015)

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#Libraries Deepen the #Past with #History

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One thing that seems to have gotten lost in the current conversation about access to information in libraries, scholarly communication (by way of Open Access Journals etc) is the notion that these technologies do not very well represent the past.

The Digital Humanities folks seem to be the best workers toward goals of representing the past with their digitization projects and increased contextualization of those documents. The time one takes to learn a subject is also an exhibition of time itself connected with artifacts, ephemera, books, and archived websites.

I mean, design in the networked era is always changing but there is nary a place to appreciate the web itself as a historically situated technology and tool that collects history.

The Internet Archive is the only place where the history of the internet can be browsed.

But that is only one place. Might we need an archive of the archive? You know, Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe (L.O.C.K.S.S.). Yes, a micro-tangent.

They do offer a service (for a fee) for cultural heritage institutions called Archive-It, with which libraries, universities, museums etc can curate web crawls (collections of specifically chosen internet archives). This has some value. I worked with this tool a few years back at Folger Shakespeare Library.

But the main issue I see with the internet, digitized objects, born-digital resources, e-books, etc (and their archiving) is that the objects themselves, the files (be they DRM free, MP3, .PDF, .JPEG Open Source or Free Software tools, etc) is that the marks of history fail to make any impression on the objects themselves. These objects (say,  digitized manuscripts from the 16th century in Arabic) may be surrounded by dates, historical contextualization and narrative, but are not, in my view, fundamentally distinguishable from an object created just 15 minutes ago. The encoding of the object is the same and the viewing is from the same point-of-view –  –  – from a screen or networked device of some kind.

Books and paper do not have this trouble. Each copy of an analog object is physically dis-ambiguous from its “exact” copy right beside it AND the travels and journeys (its history) will become evident increasingly over time because we live in a physical world. The networked age and digital agenda can not represent this fact. It can only state it – a fundamentally different thing.

Libraries and museums as physical spaces full of physical objects CAN and DO represent the past in a more visceral mode.

Comments?

Thank you for reading.

Jesse.

My Featured SHORT Review

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I learned recently that the blog connected with the Best American Poetry series, an anthology and promotional series that has been running for about 30 years, spotlighted my Library Journal review of Alan Ziegler’s SHORT, a collection of writing from all genres just recently published.

SHORT

(click on the image to see the spotlight, thanks)

Thank you Best American Poetry. It takes a collaborative effort to run the empire of literature. 🙂

BEstpoetry

(Click on the Best American Poetry image to be taken to information on the current incarnation of their anthology, thanks)

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

Library Journal Review of Ford Madox Ford

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My review of Pallas Athene’s 2013 publication of Ford Madox Ford’s impressionistic memoirs, Memories of a Pre-Raphaelite Youth, has been published in the 01 October 2013 issue of Library Journal.

library-journalThe memoirs in this volume have been selected from an earlier, now out-of-print, edition of Ford’s memoirs, edited by Michael Killigrew in 1971, titled Your mirror to My times: The Selected Autobiographies and Impressions of Ford Madox Ford.

Banned #Books Week 2013

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American Library Association and several other groups such as the American Booksellers Association are hosting the 2013 edition of Banned Books Week – which this year goes from September 24-28.

The Library of Congress’ Center for the Book is not a sponsor, but has endorsed the week-long promotion.

I find it interesting this celebration, attention producing event, is the week after National Book Festival.
– which is squarely hosted by the Library of Congress. It marks a blur between the abstract notion of being free to read, a general celebration of reading and print culture and the world of authorship. It works as a federally funded library event for the whole family on that Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, both events have investments by retail-based organizations. American Bookseller Association in the case of Banned Books Week and big companies like Barnes & Noble Booksellers at National Book Fest. As far as I know, the book selling tent is coordinated by Barnes & Noble most years.

In no way am I criticizing B & N’s involvement in these events. It’s a great thing to be a large bookseller and to be able to promote literacy events on a national scale. But the book selling tent at National Book Fest is not a store per se – it’s a table full of books featuring the  authors at the festival (and a few other sundries published or distributed solely by Barnes & Noble). It is my belief the National Book Festival, given its prominence on the mall, should be an antagonistic force drawing attention to authors who may not often get such a large platform to get noticed. If not authors, then smaller presses carrying high quality authors. I think about presses such  as Talon Books, Dalkey ArchiveNew York Review Books and the fabulous Melville House. As it stands, the list of featured authors at this year’s book festival contains high quality writing from people attached to much larger publishing conglomerates.

These authors, such Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, James McBride and Linda Ronstadt are published by Scribner, Ecco/Harper Collins, Riverhead/Penguin and Simon &  Schuster respectively. These are not independent publishers by any stretch of the imagination. And if we take this festival into context with Banned Books Week starting just the day afterward – a celebration of alternative visions judged by communities as too alternative to be accepted – we find a strange contradiction of terms. On one hand, we find a quieter education model of thinking designed to link the history of culture and oppression of ideas to other ideas  discussed in American schools and libraries. The ALA, as a whole, is very supportive of the freedom to read. Banned Books  Week is often used as an alternative teaching tool in public schools.

In tandem, Barnes & Noble Booksellers often displays a Banned Books promotion table in honour the same week. In other words, corporate Barnes & Noble is playing both sides of this issue in the name of the dollar. And bless them for doing so. In addition, each of the authors featured is talented in his or her own right. There is no dearth of great writing in every genre at the book festival. I want to be clear, I am a big fan of many authors doing readings and signing this year. And each publisher featured has a roster of real artists in its ranks.

There has to be a better way of unifying NATIONAL BOOK FEST with Banned Books Week. The reason for said position is the scale of ambition implied by the name of the festival itself. It’s called National Book Fest, not Recently Featured on New Release Shelves Fest. Unless that is the point. There is something to be said about using such a large event to promote newly published books each year from the same spot on the National Mall annually. It does not have to be an activist festival. But with a title like National Book Fest, I must admit I keep hoping for a more philosophically well-rounded festival agenda – similar to that of Library of Congress’ Center for the Book mentioned above.

Banned Books Week on the other hand, a promotion of alternative reading and ideas, a celebration with a narrower focus offers a much more philosophical relationship to books, reading, education, literacy and libraries. Center for the Book HAS endorsed Banned Books Week because maybe their relationship to reading is more philosophically rounded than the Book Fest – which seems to be a festival steeped in the NOW. In my humble opinion, National Book Fest could embrace a slightly different rhetoric in order to realize the scope implied by its title.

Just a thought.

Thank you for reading.
Jesse L.
Twitter: @jltaglich

PS: I am starting a new #hashtag this year on Twitter to promote bicycling to the National Mall for the Festival: I am calling it #biketobookfest. I see this hashtag as one reusable from year to year. Promote it. Use it. Thank you.

Depths of the Phantom Library

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Depths of the Phantom Library:

Jacques Bonnet Reaches for the Unreachable.

Jacques Bonnet writes in, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, of a vast library. No, not the Borgesian library of “The Library of Babel” or “The Book of Sand,” but a personal library he has collected for his own use – some 40,000 + volumes. Massive. I am a fan generally of books describing avid readers and collectors (though I am mostly of the first type) – books such as that fabulous pair of titles by Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude.

PTBookshelves.Bonnet.cover.accesed18August2013I have been recently rereading Jacques Bonnet’s book. In my progress through that book, I also found this essay/review piece of writing by Alonzo McBride called, “Phantoms and Personal Libraries,” which made stylistic sense to me and by acknowledging the metaphor of books and libraries as phantoms, I thought it perfectly appropriate to bring to light the essay and the book again. In a previous post of mine, I mentioned a quote setting up Bonnet’s premise of the blurred line between what makes a personal library and an institutional library.

The quote is, ““…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).

 The library is a cultural heritage space as much as it is a personal heritage space. Sometimes these spaces are the same in space and sometimes they are not. The focus for Jacques Bonnet’s book is the personal library as memory collector for his own life. Even with that “narrow” focus, the book tackles nearly every issue institutional libraries must tackle except maybe ones related to archival technology such as finding aids or physical handling best practices, code such as XML and its publication on the web with CSS or anything having to do with web archiving. Bonnet certainly brings up the internet as it relates to text encoding, information searching, book buying experiences and the like. And in this humble blogger’s opinion, all the above technical services could be extrapolated to take account of Bonnet’s collection. Or…he could reissue the book with all the ways be built a homegrown OPAC for his personal use. 😉

Specifically, Bonnet discusses issues of categorization (the eternal question). He mentions the French OULIPO writer, Georges Perec, when he makes his “brave attempt at listing the possible methods of classifying one’s books: “alphabetically; by continent or country; by colour; by date of acquisition; by date of publication; by size; by genre; by literary period; by language; by frequency of consultation; by binding; by series” (37). One sees from this list how several of the categorization headings would be preferred by a person over an institution – “by date of acquisition” as the best example. Yet, even this category system applies to libraries that have a “recently arrived” or “new” section to encourage library users to catch up on what’s current. Except, even this classification does take into account the difference between newly acquired due to recent publication or newly acquired due to replacement for damage etc. Some of the other categories (which obviously fails to take into account anything like LC Classification or Universal Dewey) are well suited for research libraries – such as “by literary period” or even “binding” in a rare books special collection. The largest flaw, however, in Perec’s classification is the total lack of subject access (which has to be the single most challenging classification of them all) – though some of the other categories work with subject access.

Bonnet does bring to light one aspect of his own classification I will write as ABSTRACT vs. CONCRETE (102-103). In the first he puts subjects such as theology, religion, philosophy, literary topics and science. It is interesting he defines “science” as abstract instead of concrete. In the second category he drops in history, anthropology, biography and documents (though it is not clear to what this term applies). One can appreciate the presuppositions necessary to refer to one subject as abstract and another as concrete even though both may be examples of humans thinking and writing their words. I recommend everyone reading this also go out and take a look at the subdivisions within Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Dewey, and thesauri such as the one for art and architecture published by Getty by first examining the depth and granularity of each system within its own rules and then by looking through World Cat and Library of Congress catalog records.

I fully understand Bonnet’s book is personal – not designed to be an institutional best standard for understanding large collections. But even from this personal point of view, it is not without meaning (I recommend this book be on the curriculum for all ischools). Other examples of meaning come through his acknowledgment of the internet’s impact on not just information as a whole as it relates to libraries, but also the procedures by which a person or institution acquires new materials – scaled digital content in the form of periodicals searchable through aggregation technologies or the purchasing of new print items such as monographs from academic presses (though he talks about how collectors use the internet to search for titles unavailable locally).

The truth is the book is simply pleasurable to read. And it asks the same questions all libraries ask themselves: how long should a title be kept in a research collection (or a public library) if it circulates infrequently?; how does one best use space limitations (of which every library has a few struggles as such)?; and what happens in the event of the death of the collector or a fire in the library?

Bonnet includes a quote by Petite Larousse (a lexicon) of the term, “fantôme [phantom]” – a sheet or card inserted to mark the place of a book removed from a library shelf, or a document which has been removed” (110).

The remainder of what was there before… What was there before? Was it a resource that got weeded from the collection? Was it a library that became underfunded over time? Was it a trace of an object that was reformatted as a digital object available on the open web or behind a subscription pay-wall? Something is missing. For Bonnet, even if he chooses, as do so many other librarians (personal and institutional), not to lend any out any items from his collection, the fundamental missing feature among such ideas as not having time to read every book in the library, not having enough shelf space to best hold each item and not having a perfect classification system of either knowledge or objects is lack of total control of the library. The library, as the first quite implies, is made of a river of occurrences that enter and exit the way time and life itself enters and exits at varied and uncertain rates. I would say Jacques Bonnet’s fun little book for book geeks revels in, and still tries to make sense from, the powerful uncertainty in this world.

One must be willing to change as the collection itself changes.

The question arises then if anyone will be able to insert a fantôme in every changing moment life as it changes into something else so we’ll be reminded of what used to be.

Thank you for reading.
Jesse L.
Twitter: @jltaglich

Reference: Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.

Upcoming Phantom Library (a taste)

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I have been reading this blog post by Alonzo McBride and rereading PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES by Jacques Bonnet. Great book.
There are plenty of relevant points in the small text to library collections and knowledge/resource organization.

I do, however, want to highlight a few lines right now.

“…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).

Ponder away…

Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from the French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.

Thank you for reading.
Jesse L.
Twitter: @jltaglich