Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Written in 2009

"'Books do furnish a room,' but what matters most about a collection is, of course, what readers do with it. Recent work in the field awkwardly known as the history of books and reading has shown that the art and act of reading has its period styles and devices -- for example, the hurried skimming characteristic of our own harassed, Taylorite world, which finds its virtual embodiment in the hot link. From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, erudite readers worked through the arcane texts that mattered most to them in a particular, precisely defined way. They read extensively, comparing texts from many sources, and used the most elaborate, up-to-date equipment to do so. But they also read any particular work as intensively as possible, with pen in hand. Representations of work in the library during this period consistently show the most learned readers defacing the books in front of them, with a zeal that would horrify any modern librarian, as part of a systematic effort to excavate every bit of marrow from what now look like the dry bones of Latin erudition."
-- Anthony Grafton in his magnificent book on the community of Western scholarship,
Worlds Made By Words. (It is also worth noting how beautifully designed and well-made the book is, thanks to Harvard University Press.)

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