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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boot Camp for Rare Books

Erotica is certainly the flavor of the month

Jennifer Schuessler's story about the study of beautiful rare books in the New York Times even has the word "steamy" in the first paragraph!

And it focuses on an erotic love poem, too...

It's an interesting story about a class at the University of Virginia.  As Jennifer Schuessler describes, for five weeks each summer Rare Book School brings some 300 librarians, conservators, scholars, dealers, collectors and random book-mad civilians together for weeklong intensive courses that are so popular that people return every year.

The story begins with a description of the class lecturer, Mark Dimunation, the chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, handing out slips of paper with syllables to decipher.

They add up to two words and a date:  Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 1499

Which are the title and publication date of a long erotic love poem printed in Venice by Aldus Manutius and often described as one of the weirdest and most beautiful books ever produced.

Producing the book itself led to a comic moment, apparently.  An assistant brought out a copy from the first printing of the book and began turning the pages, which promptly opened on a woodcut showing a figure with an extravagant erection.

The fifteenth century Venetian version of Fifty-Shades-of-You-Know-What?

But the class sounds fascinating as it covers the history of the book in general, as well as the study of rare volumes, all told by experts in the various fields.

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