May 2008

Florida library braces for ‘perfect storm’

Malaysian library disappearing one book at a time.

State officials who challenged electronic voting receive Kennedy award.

302.3 Social Interaction Within Groups

I said I would tell you all another bully story, and as you’ve been very patient while I futzed around and did other stuff, I’ll try to make this one extra good.

One day I was out riding my bike like a nice little dork when I came to the intersection at one end of my block. I heard something smack against the asphalt as I pedaled along, so I stopped to see what it was. I looked down and saw that a rotten apple, brown and semi-liquid, had exploded on impact a few feet away. Before I even had time to formulate in my mind the question, “Now, where in the heck did that come from?”, another apple struck the macadam not far from where the first one had landed. And another. And another. Not a shower of apples, mind you—no more than a half a dozen or so. Out of nowhere. Like mortar fire, launched by an unseen, unheard and unknown aggressor. Just enough to creep me out, to make me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. The message was clear: “Go back home to momma, you little sissy. These are our streets, not yours.”

To this day, I have no idea who lobbed those spoiled fruits at me, though I could make a short list of the usual suspects, like any good detective. I suppose I ought to thank them for helping prepare me for all the strange little moments that would follow. That incident didn’t prepare for everything, but it made some of life’s little weird episodes a little easier to take.

Like the time I pulled up to an office in downtown D.C. to deliver a package, and standing before me on the street was a man standing stock still, practically catatonic, with a spring sticking out of one ear, his hands outstretched, his eyes staring at nothing. Or the time I was waiting outside a music studio in another part of D.C., talking with a friend, when a car came screeching around the corner and plowed into the car in front of mine. Things like that. After the apple incident, they didn’t have quite the same effect on me. So some might say I owe those apple-snipers a debt of gratitude.

Indeed, some might say that. But I am not going to thank them. Not today. Not ever.

U.K. patrons give their library a big thumbs up.

Lots of good news items yesterday:

Internet Archive wins Patriot Act law suit

Inside the Library of Congress

Despite proven return on investment, libraries still face budget cuts

Ban ‘Second Life,’ Congressman says

Same-sex penguin story leads ‘challenged’ book list

Clintons hold up release of more documents

Another book of crazy library stories

Whibley, Charles. “The Oldest Guide-Book in the World.” Book review of J.G. Frazer’s 1898 translation of Pausanius’s Description of Greece. Review appeared in Vol. LXXVII of MacMillan’s Magazine (No. 462), November 1897 to April 1898, pp. 415-421. Google Books has a PDF file of this magazine available for download.

Genial History Channel and PBS host Tony Perrottet is hardly the first person to stumble across this ancient tome, but his Web site makes it sound as if the Description of Greece, by the Greek author Pausanias, had lain dormant for 1,800 years until Perrottet unearthed it several years ago in the New York Public Library. His Web site also makes it sound as if the guide had been written by a Roman, or at least with Roman tourists in mind. But if you want to read some really savage critiques of Perrottet’s work, check out this Amazon page.

Enough of Mr. Perrottet. He has, no doubt, already laughed his way to the bank, bad reviews or no. And, I suppose, the profits publishers make off titillating, middle-brow pablum like his enables them to produce works of quality that may not turn a profit until the next millennium.

More than 100 years ago, reviewer Charles Whibley said that the Description had already spawned a cottage industry of European scholarship, the results of which “might fill a library.” Whibley takes a look at what was then the latest contribution to that library, J.G. Frazer’s six-volume, heavily annotated English translation of the Description. English majors like me know Frazer as the author of the foundation work on the modern study of folk tales, The Golden Bough. My English professor made it sound as if this earlier work would be harder to find than the Holy Grail, but I snagged a copy from the McKeldin Library without having to face so much as a single rude French castle guard or a trick question on the air-speed velocity of swallows.

Reading The Golden Bough filled in a lot of gaps for me on European history, and from Whibley’s article, it looks as if Frazer’s translation of Pausanias could fill in a few more. Pausanias began collecting accounts of Greek folk customs before Frazer was even a glint in his great-great-great-great…great-grandfather’s eye, and Frazer finds parallels for each account in the Description in cultures around the world, Whibley says.

Frazer’s work also quotes other ancient historians, whose writings indicate that the tradition of travel writing began long before Pausanias set out for the Greek Isles in the second century A.D., and some of them were Greek. One such predecessor practiced his craft with a lot more verve than did Pausanias, Frazer says. Dicaearchus, a contemporary of Aristotle, “was as jaunty a tourist as ever wore a tweed suit or slung a field-glass over his shoulder,” Whibley quotes Frazer as saying. For all its detail, the Description often comes across as dry, lacking a sense of humor or enthusiasm, Frazer says.

Dicaearchus slings barbs at the people of Athens and other Greek city-states with the same panache movie critic Davey Marlin-Jones exhibited in the 1970s when he trashed bad films, in the days before Hollywood’s p.r. juggernaut co-opted the business of reviewing movies, and now, books. Pausanias could never write the way his Greek antecedent did, Whibley says. “[H]e is, in truth, a Baedeker, body and soul.” I just saw A Room with a View on PBS, so I know that that means “a reliable but unadventurous guidebook that all the British tourists took with them to Italy at the turn of the century.”

Whibley admits he doesn’t know much about this elderly Greek (these links may help broaden our understanding), but he does know that Pausanias “belonged to that class which is born middle-aged…. Were he alive today he would tramp around Europe with a kodak and a green butterfly net, and if he were persuaded to write a book, the book would have to be hidden away for two or three hundred years before it attained its proper value.”

That’s pretty much what I’m hoping for with my work. I’m probably more like Pausanias than Dicaearchus. Somehow, somewhere at some future date some clever Tony Perrottet type may get rich and famous off my intellectual property, while I spend the rest of my life wearing the same pair of white Nikes I’ve had since 1998. I don’t care. I just want what I write to be good. Don’t get me wrong; I’d like the money, but I already have a nice wife, a nice house, a nice cat, and a nice family. Someday, I may even have a nice job again, in which case I’ll probably have to stop blogging.

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