Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Cart and Lotus on a Shanghai Street: Books and Travels in China (3)

A Daily Offering...

Here's a little treat for your day: a daily offering of books!  When I first arrived in Shanghai it was sweltering, and I took refuge, of all places, in a local McDonalds.  Curiously, its food items were not what one might find in New York, Chicago, or elsewhere in the US.  Instead, they had infused aspects and flavors of Chinese culinary culture into the food items, including green tea sundaes, and pork sandwiches.  When I finally emerged from the air conditioned "Micky D's" (or "Mick-ee De'zi?") I found this great little truck and vendor, selling books out of the back!  I took this photo along with some of other vendors, including the one at the bottom, who was selling lotuses.  Of course, no one told me how to eat these things, when I did buy them.  So I found them incredibly dry and terrible to chew on.  When I did get the proper lesson in eating lotus, I discovered I hadn't been taking off the correct "plant flesh coating" of the seeds, which do in fact give you a bad feeling in your mouth.  Once this covering of the seed is taken off, the lotus seed itself is quite tasty!  Lesson learned.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Books and Budai in Hangzhou: Books and Travels in China (2)

Happy Golden Statues

It's always a delight to come across statuary, as you never know what it's meant to represent until you take a good look at it.  And when one travels in places like China, you'll find a intriguing statues of various natures all over the country.  A couple quick items for today: this statue of what appears to be "a Buddha," often described as "the laughing Buddha."  But in truth, this Chan monk from the Late Liang Dynasty is known as the Budai.  There is a deeper history, which I won't fully go into here now, but it is an interesting expression of a rich tradition.

While visiting Hangzhou, I walked all over the town, and discovered some interesting places, including the local museum, which had many examples of antique Chinese books.  I offer a few images here.  This story is not finished yet, but for now, keep reading...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Words on a Hangzhou Street: Books and Travels in China (1)

Chinese on the Walkways

As I venture into the world of Chinese culture and Chinese books, I want to give you a taste of the many blogposts to come, based on my trip to China last summer.  Here, you will see a couple photographs I took, while walking in the city of Hangzhou, in the West Lake Region.  It was in an area of old shops, where a stream went through the town.  I found, as I was walking on the path, this series of "stone texts" embossed on the ground.  The letters are emblematic of an ancient press, and if you can read Chinese, or recognize its characters, you will realize that this piece of art in the photos below is a representation of an ancient printing press.  You can tell this, because the Chinese characters are all backwards!

It is an interesting representation of the "written arts," and many more examples will be shared as I go through the countless photos I took this last summer.  Well, words "under foot" may explain or confound us, but they are still there.  Keep your eye on the path.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Books on a Chinatown Street

When Books Accompany a "Theological" Message

It happens ever so often that I'll be walking down the street--usually in NYC--and there, all of a sudden, I come upon a display of books.  They could be on a table, they could be on the ground, on a tarp, on a box, on the ground, in a row..., what have you.  It is certainly always a curious sight, and for most of us bibliophiles, an attraction.  But I think there comes a time, when you just pass such biblio-expressions by, because they are frequent, or because the books look tattered, or old, or just plain uninteresting.  Sometimes, we're just too busy.  I reflected on this recently, on this thought that I've become a bit more apathetic to passing such book displays.  I'm not sure what it is, though it may be one of this aforementioned reasons.

Nonetheless, I'm usually more intrigued when I see some "signage" accompanying books on display or for sale.  I'm more apt to stop, even momentarily, to look at what's going on.  In this case, I was walking in Chinatown on a recent evening, and nearly stumbled over this regiment of books, set in a line along the wall of a building (I think it was either a convenient store or a bank!).  And there, right in the middle, was this sign.  It took a little maneuvering to actually see this, because the streets were filled with busy people, rushing by the books, and me!  But I was able to snap a few shots to share with you today.  Now looking at the actual sign in more depth, and some of the books on display, I'm more aware of the message, though it is perhaps an unclear and distorted "hamartiological" (i.e. relating to sin) cry, from a religious person on the street--the street, being a key stage for promoting one's agendas. Yet, despite any of these sin-laced proclamations, it is an interesting expression of the human desire to be heard, especially as we consider which item accompanies the other:  do the books accompany the sign, or does the sign accompany the books?  Or are the really more unrelated than the owner of this set-up intended?  I'm not sure we'll really know, as I didn't see anyone in that mad rush, passing by these books in the crowd; I didn't see anyone overseeing this display.  And yet, by a fateful and paradoxical chance, my own curiosity to examine this person's display and thoughts will go to a far wider audience than he or she ever intended, while remaining imprinted on a blog, cast around the globe, for a digital eternity.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Burke Library Open House

Come Enjoy some Snacks!

The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, hosted an Open House for the community yesterday.  We had a steady stream of visitors from 2-4:30PM, who enjoyed the drinks and snacks and good conversation.  In homage to "study breaks" and the recently departed "twinkie," we offered, as one visitor exclaimed, "a ziggurat of cloud cakes!"  Surprisingly, to some, they were not only a hit, but the most talked about item on the table.  Viva la twinkie!  One of the surprises was the visit from an old friend of mine from Chicago, John Hubers.  John is finishing his dissertation at LSTC in Chicago, and is currently doing research at Burke.  He joined us toward the end of the afternoon.  It was a delightful surprise to see him again and catch up.

By afternoon's end, we had a good number of visitors, probably between 30-40, who came in for refreshments and conversation.  And of course, to meet all of our staff.  We'll think about the twinkies for next time...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A New New Testament ~ Hal Taussig and Friends

Is it Really "A NEW New Testament?"

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a superb function at Union Theological Seminary, which is likely to be something talked about for a long time to come.  It was the book launch of a tremendous project~and to say "of biblical proportions" would not be incorrect!~undertaken by Prof. Hal Taussig and a team of incredibly talented religious leaders and translators.  The book (or, really, "books") is the Bible.  "A book launch for the Bible!?" you ask?  Well, let's continue with the specifics of this project...

What makes this project special, is its content.  The book's actual title is "A New New Testament."  It is not a typo: "New" and "New" are meant to be together.  The underlying foundations of this work, which is part new translation, part re-working of traditional texts already translated, was to create a fluid biblical text, which provided a broader context of the ancient world, and especially one which included some of the so-called "extra-canonical" biblical texts discovered in the last one hundred years.  The new text, or "A New New Testament" also aimed at de-genderizing and de-gnosticizing the text, such that anyone could read this biblical treatment, expression, and translation, and find meaning in an open and progressive manner.  Such were some of the descriptions provided by the members of the translation team and "Council" of scholars and religious leaders, which Prof. Taussig assembled for this project.  The result was an expansive undertaking, which afforded a translation that could be used in the context of religious congregations around the country, and even the world.

The full house of James Chapel at Union Theological Seminary, heard a discussion from panelists on the "Council," moderated by Celene Lillie, Director of Translation, Coptic Scholar, and UTS Ph.d. Candidate.  A few key points to convey here: the new translation and rendering of the biblical text includes far more poetry for the New Testament "canon," however this may be now defined.   It was discussed how there is a paucity of NT poetry, compared with that found in the Hebrew Bible; in fact, one of my colleagues, Liz R. Miraglia, prepared the English translation of a Syriac poem, which was included in "A New New Testament," and has been praised for its beauty and elegance.  Also, and perhaps significantly, this work expands and promotes the biblical stature of women, and the voice of women in the text.  One can see that, as more than one panelist mentioned, this work will give new direction to many churches, many congregations, and many people.  It is something that will revitalize, and reconnect people with the biblical text, the ancient world, and beyond.

Prof. Taussig, seen above, signing a copy of his edition.  As some in the Q&A session brought up, there are always the possibilities of creating a stir, and when you involve the Bible, there is always going to be some "stirring."  As a founding member of the famed "Jesus Seminar," Hal Taussig has been involved in many of the questions around the historical Jesus.  And as it was mentioned last night, there will always be some sort of controversy surrounding projects like this.  But as Taussig himself said, in response to naysayers and controversy seekers, I paraphrase: "Let's not WAVE our Bibles, Let's READ our Bibles."  Well said, Hal.  Well said.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chester, VT--Country Girl, Menus, and Books!

Little Town, Big Burger, Lots-O-Books

Last year, I somehow spotted a photo that a friend had taken.  In it, a group of folks was sitting and having a meal at a country diner.  Specifically, it was the "Country Girl Diner" in Chester, VT.  The thing that struck me about this place was its size.  It was literally the size of the back of a car!  Well, okay, that's a bit exaggerated.  But it was DARN small!  I decided to investigate this place, and found it on a map, and then thought I'd just drive up there.  It was a few hours drive from upstate NY, yet a pleasant one.  I drove through many interesting little towns, including one where Grandma Moses lived, and was buried--Hoosick Falls, NY.

Anyhow, I found my way up through the Green Mountains, past ski resorts, and a bounty of pine trees, and came into the town of Chester.  A lovely place, which seemed to have a great deal of activity and life in it.  As I made my way through town, I discovered, delightfully, that there was not just one book shop, but at least two! 

The Misty Valley Books (book shop) was a great place, which has a vibrant author event scene.  It is a wondrous thing in Vermont, which has a fairly rural culture, but seems to have more books than pickups!  (I like both, by the way.)  This shop was full of interesting items--books, kids books, kids toys, and more than.  And the number of events seemed truly bountiful!

Though, it was not open, The Chester Bookworm, which is an Antiquarian shop, is yet another bookish option for locals and travelers.  Next time I'm up for a visit to the diner, I hope the Bookworm is open!

I will leave you all with the primary aim of this trip: to find the Country Girl.  Now, I know you all think I should just look for books, but food is a key part of any trip, and it is integral to how one travels and experiences travel.  The Country Girl Diner gets multiple stars for its food and hospitality, above all.  The closeness of the space added to the generosity of its staff.  After talking to folks in the booths and the waitresses, we all discovered how far each of us came.  I came the farthest, and actually came to Chester FOR the diner.  They were so moved by this, they gave me a brownie!  What good folks.  And the massive, 12-lb (well, not quite, but it felt like it!) Chester Burger was a good deal and well worth the trek.  So I thank the town of Chester for having good representatives.  But also, damn good burgers and books.  I'll come back anytime.  Thanks Chester, VT.  Keep up the great work!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Northshire Books, Manchester, VT

Northshire Books

Last spring I took a day-long drive up to Vermont in search of a...well, diner!  I'll write about that in another, upcoming post.  But during that drive, while coming back home to NY, I decided to drive through Manchester, Vermont.  And of course, Vermont, being the bookish place it is, I found plenty of bibliographic opportunities.  This bookshop, Northshire Books, was a delightful place, which had a fine selection of materials, as well as an outstanding staff, which was outgoing and informative.  When I arrived, a very nice woman was demonstrating the Espresso Book Machine, which is a print on demand device, that will print your own book within 10 minutes, in some cases, just 7 minutes!  Outside the shop was this curious sculpture,  with metallic arms, a base-body of books, and a post-box head of Thomas Jefferson...with a seagull perched atop!?  I also only realized after taking this photo, that there's a guy reading behind the sculpture!  Well, stay tuned for further adventures in the bookish wander-trade!  And if you're ever in the area, check out this bookshop and their famed Espresso Book Machine.  (You can get real espresso around the corner, if you so desire, too).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mini Book Reading Statue Near Dykman

The Observationally Bizarre?  Or Not...

Simply put, I contribute some curiously odd things to this blog.  This post may constitute one of those observations.  Last year, while I was walking up near Dyckman Street (pron. DIKE-man) in upper Manhattan, I spotted a little patch of earth, lined by a picket fence along the miles of NYC's cemented sidewalks.  Someone had created a little garden with small statuary.  As I looked it over quickly, I noticed with some surprise a statuette of a (child?) reading a book.  Of course, I had to take a few photos of this, including a close-up, which appears to show this tiny statue READING a book!  Though, sadly, one of its hands seems to be missing.  This microcosm of a garden is surely a curiosity, and somehow a world created by someone with designs and intentions to develop a small plot of un-used urban dirt and emptiness into something to break the monotony of cemented urbanity.  I really wonder what Jane Jacobs would have said about this one!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

NYC Book Art

A Modest Observation

We all see examples and expressions of "book art" wherever we go.  And I'm generally a pretty enthusiastic supporter of these artistic and creative endeavors.  I remember a few years ago, when I visited the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, I saw this incredibly crafted "antique" Encyclopedia, from the 1920s, which a clever paper artist had taken a scalpel to, and turned it into this miraculous Borges-style menagerie.  It was a veritable paper-zoo of cut outs from the Encyclopedia's animalistic entries!  Indeed, quite amazing.  I don't recall who the artist was, and I now wish I'd written down both the name of the artist and the name of the artist's work.  Perhaps one day I'll find this person.  In the mean time, I share with you this curious image I took last year, sometime around (and near) the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC.  I saw this artist, who'd taken the covers of books, and turned them into a masterful palette of...well, yes, almost another menagerie!  Take a look for yourself.  Here too, I did not get the name of this artist.  I guess I've learned my lesson.  From now on, I ought to document more than just the image, and really pursue...metadata!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The NY Antiquarian Book Fair 2012

New York Antiquarian Book Fair

As I've surely mentioned before, I often feel like I need to get my bibliographic affairs in order, because I have such a backlog of photos to post and blogs to write that I feel I'll never catch up.  Yet, as I've slowly gone through this list of items, I've decided to include those topics, which will surely go "out of date," if I don't write about them soon.  Among the "many" is this set of images I took last spring at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.  This is quite the event, and I managed to get a few tickets for this in 2012.  Surprisingly (to me), I ran into a handful of colleagues from around the country.  I guess this shouldn't be too surprising, since once you're in any field long enough, you find your circle of colleagues expands into so many different areas that you're bound to meet someone you know at one of these events.  

Part of the incredible nature of the Antiquarian Book Fair, especially the one held in New York, is that the range of collectors and buyers is so large, but perhaps even more surprising to the first time attendee is the grandeur of the space it's held in (the Armory~which you can see images of below), as well as the  amazingly and astonishingly broad range of bibliographic antiquity represented.  ...and not to mention the rarity and cost of such items would undercut the value of this experience!  In fact, one of the first items I came across was a medieval era volume, which was being sold for something like $390,000!  Some would say this is "change" in some circles, but remember, most universities can't really afford this.  And it demonstrates both the variable and alternate markets that exist, especially among private collectors with deep pockets.

We'll soon again be coming upon the NY Antiquarian Book Fair, so if you have any interest at all in the field of rare volumes such as these, get a ticket and come for a visit.  You won't be disappointed in the event.  Plus, you'll see more tweed and tortoise shell glasses in one place than I'm sure most of you have seen in years!