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Book Club Tue Apr 10 2012

In Case You Missed It: The Chicago Humanities Festival Indulges Our Love Affair with Books

The Chicago Humanities Festival tends to attract the most passionate among us, those who cling to a chosen humanities field with vigor and the enthusiasm of a kid in front of an ice cream sundae. I am lucky that I'm not starved for the company of "book bums," the term Princeton Professor Anthony Grafton used to describe himself and the subjects of his studies at his lecture, "The Book: Past, Present, and Future." (You can listen to the full audio recording here.)

"As a book bum I often find myself wondering what my current students will look back to as they sit in our beautiful smooth libraries seamlessly downloading PDFs from websites all over the world," Grafton said. "Texts with no ink, with no smell, with no signs of use."

Grafton is a book historian, studying scholarly tendencies of generations of book bums before him, usually via the marginalia of 16th century texts. His knowledge is so exacting, so intimate, that he was even able to casually refer to one subject's bathroom habits. And in addition to delving deeply into the worlds of past readers, Grafton is busy considering what legacy the next generation--one that studies in digital libraries and seldom sets foot amongst the stacks--will leave for future scholars like himself who revel in the physicality of libraries.

"I came to know books not as texts, as we say in university, but as materials objects printed on creamy paper with type that left an actual impression, bound in solid leather or vellum and then marvelously scarred like human beings by all the bumps and rattlings inflicted by life," Grafton said. "The stigmata that meant they'd meant something to someone in the past, books that bore marginalia that wound up the sides of pages of renaissance books draped up like ivy, magnificent and old facades. Even the books that had been damaged by little animals, even they gave the sense of their rich materiality."

See, that's passion.

The Festival's springtime programming will conclude with a presentation by Etgar Keret and Nathan Englander on Thursday, April 26. On May 2, their annual international theater and performance festival Stages, Sights, and Sounds kicks off with family appropriate programming that will appeal to anyone with an interest in avant-garde and experimental performance. Looking forward some more, the Festival just announced its plans for fall program, which is America. Events and lectures will engage the topics surrounding America as a literary and cultural theme from local and global points of view. Full listing will be available in August.

 
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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

Editor: Andrew Huff, ah@gapersblock.com
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