A bookish break and more musings on e-reading

The Nocturnal Librarian has been on spring break. I visited family in Austin, TX and had a very good time. Besides good company, excellent restaurants, funky local shoppingUT’s museums, warm sunny weather, and live music, I relished the bookish delights of the Austin area. We shopped at the Austin Public Library Bookstore, Recycled Reads, and the indie bookstore BookPeople, visited the Ransom Center‘s King James Bible exhibit, and saw some of Dr. Suess’s original Lorax drawings at the LBJ Library and Museum and an exhibit of his work at Art on 5th.

On planes and in airports, I saw more e-books than print. On one flight, I noticed my seat-mate reading The Hunger Games on an iPad, (which explained why he was in no hurry to de-plane). As Michael and Ann observed on the Books On the Nightstand podcast (#170), it is increasingly hard to pick up reading ideas while traveling because e-readers make books nearly anonymous. I made a dent in my “to-read” piles and am hopeful some fellow traveler snooped on the titles, because they are both terrific: Homer & Langley by E. L. Doctorow and In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians edited by Michael Cart.

When I got home I reminded my son, who is home this week, that we now subscribe to the New York Times electronically. He made a very sharp observation which I had overlooked, since my husband and I read the paper in shifts (he departs for work while nocturnal people are still sleeping). You can’t enjoy communal newspaper reading — swapping sections around the breakfast table — with an e-reader.

The past (and present) as future

I recently read Toby Lester’s new book, DaVinci’s Ghost, which examines centuries of cultural and intellectual history that led to Leonardo daVinci’s drawing known as “Vitruvian Man.” One interesting thing I learned is that Pavia, Italy had a fantastic library which Leonardo visited. Like many of history’s lost libraries, Pavia’s collection was dispersed as power changed hands and descendants of the library’s owner had other priorities. Some manuscripts and books turned up elsewhere, some may be lost forever.

Last night I read Anne Trubek’s piece in the Atlantic about the Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas.  Trubek decribes this humanities library, archive, and museum:

“WITH 36 MILLION manuscripts and a million rare books, the Harry Ransom Center, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, is a standout in the exclusive club of the world’s great museum-quality collections. The requisite Gutenberg Bible is on display, along with treasures rarer still: Shakespeare folios; James Joyce manuscripts; the archives of Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Sexton, George Bernard Shaw.”

What Trubek finds intriguing is that the center’s director, Thomas Staley, is working to preserve the papers of contemporary authors, people who are still writing. To choose whose work should be archived, he asks experts: ” academics, book reviewers, and other authors.” But he also asks readers, and Trubek describes a moment on campus when he asks a student reading poetry about poets. The center is watching the careers of 600 authors, to determine which literary legacies to collect.

I find it heartening that in the midst of passionate discourse about the future of publishing and physical books, a library in Texas is betting its future on preserving the past, while actively seeking reader and writer input as part of the process. What authors writing today do you consider important to preserve for future generations?