Thursday, November 19, 2009

hello Dropbox...goodbye flash drive

If you're like me and wasted too many hours to count trying to devise clever systems for file storage to help you remember where you saved a file--work computer, laptop, home desktop, flash drive?--you will, like me, fall in love with Dropbox (props to Alex for spreading the word). Here's the short and sweet version of how it works: it syncs all of your computers to a single "dropbox" or file folder. No more freaking out at work because you left your notes at home or vice versa. For a better explanation, check out this video below from the technology "in plain English" series. Oh, and did I mention you get 2G of free storage space? Yeaaaah. Sign up. Now. Here. Do it!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Medieval Helpdesk

In a recent guest talk I did to prepare students at Notre Dame for a Rare Book Room visit, I was very tempted to play this classic of the YouTube book history clips (of which there are so many). I'm quite sure it would have been a runaway hit. Really, I am.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Last night in Besse 1

Things I'll miss about 'ye olde booke club':
1. Having a "buttery" bar in our hall
2. The satisfaction at cracking another layer of the Bodleian's cataloging system
3. Indecisive weather
4. Shakespeah
5. Battling for Muesli in the morning
6. Oblong books
7. Images "not for the faint at heart"
8. Lord Nuffield
9. 6:15 a.m. runs next to cows
10. Nightly potatoes

To Mark, Jim, John, Matt, Dennis, John, Kathleen, Lex, Rabia, Chris, Sue, Phil, Anne, Marlo, Tim, Lara, & Emily--cheers & happy travels home!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wizards and more old books

We show-goers (what I've dubbed Marlo, Lara, Tim, & I after our adventures in London...and those to come in Stratford this week) finished out last week in true Oxfordian form: catching the new Harry Potter movie. After forcing Lara to stuff my gummy worms in her coat pocket to avoid the leering eyes of the ticket collectors (I, alas, was pocket-less), we made our way to the theater--albeit amidst swarms of pre-teens and their parents. But that's not the point. Wizardry and horcruxes and such. That's what it's all about. Well, that and the gummy worms.

Quite a fun show, and well-worth the ridicule we faced from our peers the next day at breakfast. Friday brought us to our last library tour at St. John's College, and, to drop a total cliche, one worth the wait. Jim Bracken, one of the seminar leaders and Assistant Director of Libraries at Ohio State, organized a fabulous exhibit of a range of early printed books and manuscripts, including William Caxton's (the first printer in England) 1483 copy of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and John Eliot's so-called 1663 "Indian" Bible (translated into a Native American language). We even got our first, and probably last, group shot and had time to dig into the books resting in their almost-authentically-early-modern library stalls. Most important of all, though, were the many individual "reading Chaucer" pictures taken that day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

'Tis Pity...really.

In round two of "Marlo, Emily & Laura hit the town," we went to see John Ford's rarely performed revenge tragedy, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, last night. If you're not familiar with Ford, don't get scared by the title...well, I take that back. It's a pretty disturbing play--but, not in the way you might think. Granted there's eye gauging and conniving secretly-Spanish servants and a bloody still-beating heart (and did I mention the incest??), but it really is--in theory--quite good. Sadly, we decided to take our chances with the local theater scene, hoping above hopes that it's England after all and this is where theater should be good everywhere, in a permeating-the-English-genetic-pool kind of way. Oh, and did I mention we walked two miles to get there? Yeah.

The program should have been our tell-tale sign. First, the director proudly brandished the fact that they put this together in a mere 39 days when it would normally take several months. Second, the group of actors became a company. Note: after they started rehearsing for the play. Third, and the biggest clue, this was to be a perfect blend of amateur and professional actors. Um, amateur??!?? Ok, now I'm feeling guilty. This was the problem actually: a constant pull and tug from being slightly horrified to feeling guilty for being horrified and turning instead to feeling proud of them for doing it, but really just embarrassed in a only-a-relative-could-sit-through-this-and-smile kind of way.

To understand how we felt afterward, take a look at Marlo's dramatic reinactment pictured above, in which she poses with the program for the play, all while Emily empathizes with her pain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

O vegetables, how I miss thee

Ok, so if anyone knows anything about England, they know three things:
1. There was that Shakespeare guy.
2. They still have a queen.
3. Finding good food here is a serious feat--unless you enjoy a tasty batch of fish n' chips every night...and afternoon...and as soon as you wake up.

#1 and #2 we can forgive them for, even applaud. But it is the last point which has consumed my thoughts--indeed, my daily existence--for the past few weeks. So much so, in fact, that a fellow seminarian, Matt, has kindly given me his favorite post card from our travels because of how perfectly it expresses my misery (see above). Thank god for immigration...and for Marks & Spencer pre-made salads.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Jude Law...I mean Shakespeare is always worth it

Thursday began with a taste of the UK commuter life: a 2 1/2 hr bus ride from Oxford to London at 7 a.m. Lara, Tim, Marlo, and I set off like true hardcore Shakespeare fans to get day-of tix to the new production of Hamlet playing in London's West End. And let me tell you, our fanatical early morning trek had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Jude Law was playing the title role. Nothing. Nada. Nope. Definitely not.

Tim & Marlo had the right idea with how to pass the time (see above). Once we arrived, the line had already started forming (freakish fans came at 5 a.m.), but we still secured some standing room tickets. These were no mere "groundling" spots, though--but more on that later.

After the ticket purchase, Tim & I headed to the library only to find that it was, like Wyndham's Theatre, apparently the place to be. The manuscript room did they put it? Ah, yes. FULL. Um, what?! Full? As in no way to work after taking a 2.5 hour pukey morning commute into London full?! I had a silent hissy fit (it was a library after all), regrouped and contemplated defeat. But in true form, I devised a plan B: stalk the readers in a casual "I'm just walking around looking at random books until one of you slips and leaves your space undefended" way. Sooner or later my plan worked.

For dinner, Marlo had an awesome Indian restaurant picked out in Covent Garden. The whole place was decorated with hanging dolls (see left)--creepy or colorful? You decide. After dinner, we made our way to the play. Tickets have been sold out for ages, so we were thrilled to get standing tickets. Of course, I had my Jersey elbows ready to throw if anyone tried to take my spot on the railing. Luckily, no such threat was necessary and the performance was fabulous. Jude didn't disappoint, and there were some other memorable elements (stage design, Ophelia's insanity, doing yoga poses amidst the skull scene to keep my legs from going numb...). Luckily, the bus ride back was uneventful, owing large part to the fact that it took place between 11 p.m. and 1:15 a.m. Rebels that we are, we even had to enter the college through the clandestine "late gate".

Monday, July 6, 2009

Retracing the roots of hobbits, orcs, and other such Middle-earthean lore

[top: Lara & Matt; bottom: Mark, Tim, Rabia, & me]

Together with our fearless & wise leader, Mark, we embarked on our most serious literary venture yet: a walking Tolkien tour of Oxford. Several things were working in our favor yesterday afternoon: first, 8 out of 9 of us have a deep-rooted love of The Lord of the Rings (thanks, Dennis, for ruining our stats); second, the British weather gods were working in our favor with a sunny, 70-degree afternoon; and, third, "The Eagle and Child" pub (where Tolkien, Lewis, and other inklings gathered regularly) was dangling in front of us like a carrot as our post-tour reward.

The trip began in Magdalen College (pictured left) where we walked the same path around the park where C. S. Lewis renounced Atheism with Tolkien. All Atheists in the group trod warily. From there, we saw the last house Tolkien inhabited in Oxford, one of the colleges he worked at in his 30s, and some fun signs advertising "Tudor Music by Candlelight." If there were ever a group of suckers for this kind of signage, surely it's this crew.

Our next stop was University Park where a bench (and some trees that I only pretended to identify) were dedicated to JRRT. Despite my ignorance, I offered to take a picture of Mark in front of a random bush that I thought was more worthy of a Tolkien dedication...good thing Tim & Lara have an eye for such symbolic flora and snapped a real shot.

Before closing out the afternoon, we hit the longest leg of the trek on our way to another of Tolkien's homes in Oxford. While perched on a stone wall belonging to a neighbor, the group discussed whether or not we'd ever buy the house. On the one hand, you get to sit in the room where the Elvish language and concepts like "second breakfast" came into being. On the other hand, you also get to look out your window at small gatherings of bookish tourist types staring at your house, straining to read the tiny plaque tacked to the front facade. It's a toss up.

Like all true Tolkien fans, we concluded the festivities in the famous "Eagle and Child." Since it was Sunday, the desirable "Rabbit Room" was taken (don't ask...the names of these pubs get much, much weirder). With our free St. Edmund Hall dinner awaiting us, most restrained themselves and ordered a pint. I, on the other hand, had no such restraint and ordered the full repertoire of fish, chips, and ale. The last picture I'll include is one I can't resist. I title this: "Mark, serious about Tolkien."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why all of those British comedies suddenly make sense, or, "Salsa in Oxford"

I should begin with a sincere regret that I lack photographic evidence of this evening's shinanigans (in its stead, I offer a sign we passed on our second adventure, one which will make sense soon). As many of you know, I've been on a quest to discover the UK salsa scene--London or, if need be, Oxford. Since we missed our London window, Emily, Marlo, and I decided to try our luck in Oxfordshire.

Oh, and did we get lucky. Simply put, what can be more delightful than taking a local bus to a strange intersection ("Barracks Lane" and "Hollow Way"--who needs Dickens when we have streets like that), only to be rewarded with our destination: Lord Sheffield (Heffield?? Holfield?? difference) Club. Think: VFW Hall meets YMCA meets lower rung country club...with a good smathering of suburban British types.

Once inside said "hall," we were greeted by a woman at the front desk who said, "Oh, hello. Are you here for the communion?" Me, fighting back laughter: "Uh,, no. Not the communion...didn't know about that. Salsa, something with salsa?"

Discovering that we had 45 minutes before the adventure really began, we did what any normal group of women waiting for a salsa night at a suburban Oxford VFW/YMCA (on the 4th of July, no less) might do: we hit the bar. There, we encountered the Russian bartender. I'll call him Max. Max, as we soon found out, was "filling in" for a friend, which became rather clear as Marlo had to resort to her seventh choice of drinks because Max hadn't exactly gone through the Ivy League of bartending schools. Once we had our proper beverages of choice, we wandered to the "outside garden" area only to discover said communion, complete with a tempting spread of hamburgers and hot dogs. I'm convinced it was the universe teasing us for being in England on the 4th of July. We squeezed into our picnic table and drank, contemplating a day where we might have worn red, white, and blue and flaunted our freedom from British colonial oppression...clearly something we didn't follow through with.

And then we took our salsa lessons, danced, laughed, drank a little more British ale, and took turns "shaking our groove thang" on the disco-bus we inadvertently caught to take us home to "Teddy Hall" (not before weaving amongst the drunk Oxfordians to get to "Ahmad's Bar B Q" and a delicious late-night falafel). A successful night had by all, thanks especially to Lord Neffield, Max, the disco-bus, and Ahmad.

Addendum: Marlo has poignantly reminded me of one additional crucial tidbit from our salsa-rific evening. We had a UFO citing while waiting for the disco bus in the freezing night air. Really. A UFO. Hovering above Oxford. Beat that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When in Oxford...

I felt initiated into generations of literati today as I sipped my first glass of sherry, surrounded by old books in St. Edmund Hall at Oxford. Ok, that sounds really pretentious. But, really--it seems that part of the "pass Go" aspect of academia has something to do with sherry, or at least some sort of hard alcohol consumed amongst volumes of literature. Why? Simply a residual aspect of the "old boys club"? An admission that we need massive amounts of liquor to sweeten the realization that an entire day was wasted wrestling with an antiquated online catalog? Because we're in Oxford and that's just what the natives do?

Well, pretention or not--sherry or not--once a bibliophile, always a bibliophile.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A few things I learned in Oxford

1. Walking around medieval streets never gets old...though it does do a number on the knees.

2. There will always be a market for the nautical/preppy look.

3. Oaths must be taken to enter libraries: "I will not set flame to the building (presumably with my candle that I'm reading by), nor will I smoke next to my 16th-century manuscript. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye."

4. "Magdalen" is pronounced "Maudlin" in ye olde Oxford-lish.

5. The inklings are everywhere...& Harry Potter. Really. Kids in black robes with glasses and scars above their eyebrows...ok, maybe not that last part.

Just when you thought you were stuck with me

Sue, a fellow seminarian (and special collections librarian) is keeping a nicely detailed travel blog during the trip. I'm envious of her commitment to the cause or at least to regular, informative posting.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who needs computers when you've got 17th-c printing presses?

Everyone I talked to who had been to Antwerp--not the longest list, but a list nonetheless--had one comment in common: The Plantin-Moretus Museum (a name I can know actually pronounce...with a Dutch accent or a French one). Ah, how right they were. Of course, it didn't hurt that the NEH crew had already carefully orchestrated a VIP tour of the place and its amazing holdings, including several original printing presses from the 17th century. In true "field trip" style we even got to ink & press a piece of paper using one of the original machines. A few personal favorites included the small Mercator atlases during our VIP book exhibit and holding the small piece of type mere seconds after it came out of molten metal. Sound dangerous? risky? shocking, perhaps? That's because it is. Bookishness has its risks, you know. (I'm feeling the need to quote some super hero line--or to make some cliched point about knowledge and power--but I'll resist).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top five ways to avoid/beat jet lag

1. Don't sit next to a ten-year old girl traveling solo on an overnight flight, otherwise you'll be "playing school" (in Dutch) and remarking with forced enthusiasm to every comment about how the wing looks--all instead of sleeping.
2. Avoid six legs of mass transit when carrying three jumbo pieces of luggage where signs are in non-romance-language-no-way-I'm-gonna-understand-this Dutch.
3. Drink espresso--asap.
4. Block out all light coming in from window (midsummer nights, wha?!), and go to bed at 8:30 p.m. like said ten-year-old.
5. Don't do #3 right before #4.

[Picture: View from my room in Antwerp.]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Reformation of the Book

For about six weeks this summer, I'll be joining 15 or so other participants in the NEH seminar, "The Reformation of the Book." We begin the bookish adventure in Antwerp, followed by a brief stay in London and then our three-week residency (of sorts) at St. Edmund Hall in Oxford. In lieu of mass email updates, and at risk of never-ending cycles of meta-analysis on what it means to write about travel (a natural conquence of this), I'll be temporarily transforming this blog into a travel blog--and hopefully linking to the blogs of my fellow seminarians.

On a somewhat related note, my current shameless summer reading selection (Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian) has proven to be a surprisingly appropriate precursor to the trip--old libraries, travels around Europe, vampire pursuits...the stuff dreams are made of.

Comic relief brought to you from...the 'twitterverse'

Monday, June 8, 2009

Film "Book Report": Helvetica

I'm indebted to Krista Hoefle and her good decision to reincarnate a true classic: the book report. Here goes.

Title: Helvetica

Author: Gary Hustwit

Summary: Helvetica is everywhere. It is watching you. It's in Ikea, on that dollarstore sign down the street, and on the binding of those New Mermaid editions of Renaissance plays sitting on your bookshelf...

Main point: See summary.

Favorite Part: When the "fontist" said to have invented the Helvetica typeface nonchalantly dismisses every font designed since 1950 with a wave of his hand and a roll of his eyes. Or maybe I'm just reading into things.

Questions for the Author: First, is Helvetica a perfect modernist reckoning of design, utility, and balance, or is just fascist? Second, what's up with the Helvetica haters? Finally, do you have a fan club?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why don't you blog?

A few weeks ago a student asked me a question so good I had no response: "Why don't you blog? Could you?" This request really struck me for a couple of reasons: 1. She's right. If we're assigning blogs we should blog...right? 2. Technically, I do (emphasis on 'technically'). I have this blog, I post entries several times a week on my blogs for Ren/Ref Lit and Place Matters. But that, I knew, was not what she was after.

Why is it that faculty don't blog more about the readings we assign? On the one hand, it is a practical matter. Prepping for this class, grading those papers, drafting that assignment....we get so bogged down in the technicalities of "professing" that we forget to be readers. On the other hand, it is a new way of thinking about oneself in a classroom--as a reader right there along with our students. That said, I have concerns about my own readerly impressions being taken as gospel (can you tell we've been reading Martin Luther recently?). There are ways around this, of course--asking questions, offering different interpretations, including caveats--but these moves ostensibly transform reader into facilitator and remove the "purity" of the immediate response. We return to the role of professor...but maybe that's the point. Are our students ever just readers? The blog posts they write are just as implicated in ideas about blog-readers and audience as ours may be. And, of course, good blog posts step outside the bounds of the self, reaching to communities of other reader/writer/bloggers.

This reminds me, too, of a point made by John Seely Brown at the SoTL conference at IUSB yesterday: that we need to make the process and practice of our profession/discipline available to students. Perhaps blogs are one way of doing that. Another thing to add to the list...