Books have a smell he says.

The New York Times’ Education Life had an article on using rare books to teach undergraduates. The article hints at the those perennially paired  educational components of rare material — the first being of course the allure of the gee whiz (or what the more academically inclined might term a spark to the sympathetic imagination), the second being the amount of cultural information packed into the physical instantiation of the particular book. Both these strands obviously have relevance to the vendor of rare books, and of course the earlier we get ourselves lodged into the hearts and minds of undergradutates (where by “ourselves” I mean the sundry representatives of the rare book industrial complex), the better.

It is perhaps instructive to relate here that despite my checkered academic record I did manage to produce for my 18th century English literature survey class one creditable paper, a paper in which I explored the nature and rhetorical strategies of satire by comparing Swift’s send-up of astrology in the Bickerstaff papers with the texts and physical properties of contemporary London almanacs. In enthusiastic support of my task (undergraduates being relatively uncommon in the Rare Book Room) the folks in special collections helped me photocopy at least one Partridge almanac for the cause. (I cannot be more exact, as my memory of the particulars at this late date is suffused with something of a nostalgic haze — though I should note that when I say “helped me photocopy,” I was in fact employed by the Rare Book department as a student employee and that my highly-trained photocopy forays were duly accounted for in all appropriate departmental paperwork.)

In any event, with the kind assistance rendered by both the special collections staff and the hapless Mr. Partridge, the paper managed to capitalize on my pernicious habit of pursuing reading material peripheral to any given course in which I was enrolled, capitalize on it to the extent that this became one of the rare examples of a paper completed in the space of time allotted by the professor.  And it is of course worth noting that once I had limped to the end of my undergraduate career that I did not go on to pursue graduate studies in 18th century English literature but rather took the more academically slipshod route of buying and selling these basic ingredients to research.

And thus shines the beam of a little early exposure to rare books in a naughty world!

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