Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The same, but different
Dispatches from the same routine in a different place.
I love watching students walking along campus paths and reading, standing in food lines and reading, and sitting on benches in the sun and reading. I've seen a few students texting and walking, but more of them are reading books and walking. That's somehow reassuring: they apparently didn't get the "death of reading" memos that the media churns out hourly. I especially love watching them because I'm on a strange campus and none of them are my students. Don't get me wrong--I love my students--but it's nice to be on a campus that's not your campus, since if you're on your own campus, people expect you to go to meetings and do other things incompatible with writing. I'd forgotten how much I like working in a library and how much I get done in that atmosphere of enforced academic monasticism. Even with the clatter of work-study students moving books around, it's still a peaceful place. When it's time for a break, I have a choice: there's fresh air and sunshine right outside the door, and there are stacks full of old and strange books to pick off the shelves and leaf through. The best ones are those that have a host of jokes and references that were clearly popular in, say, 1870 but are really obscure today (or should I say "to-day"?). That's the shorthand of a culture, recorded in texts in which the authors didn't even think that that's what they were writing. Who needs cryptological-anthropological mysteries when there's one lying right there on the library shelf waiting for someone to discover it?