The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Old books

Three posts, all essential, presented (almost) without comment.

1. How Books Got Their Titles, “Timber by Ben Jonson“:

Timber, or Discoveries, is a posthumous work of 1640 by Ben Jonson. It is a loose volume of literary reflections and observations, and is notable for containing one of the few contemporary accounts of Shakespeare, including the famous words: ‘I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any.’ ‘Timber’ is a pun, one that Jonson worked almost to death in the rest of his literary output. The Latin for ‘wood’ or ‘forest’ is silva, and silva can also mean ‘a collection’ (as in the Silvae of the Roman poet Statius). ‘Timber’ thus signifies a collection of useful, consumable offerings. Other works of Jonson that played on the same idea were The Forest (1616) and The Underwood (1640).

Dryden and Cowley, amongst others, also wrote Silvae, but the genre has no real modern equivalent. Is the art of disconnected literary ramblings dying out?

2. Teleread, “The strange case of academic libraries and e-books nobody reads“:

Instead of focusing on books downloadable to e-readers or smart phones, academic libraries have created enormous databases of e-books that students and faculty members can be read only on computer screens. The result, as shown by studies like the JISC national ebooks observatory project, is that these collections are used almost exclusively for searching for information—scanning rather than reading…

How did it come to this? In order to explain it’s first necessary to understand that the world of academic publishing and academic libraries, probably the single biggest sector of the current e-book market, is a strange parallel universe in relation to the rest of the e-book world.

And the best for last:

3. Hilobrow, “The Parnassus of Titon du Tillet“:

At Pazzo Books, the shop my brother Brian and I keep in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, I’ve learned that old books are funny things. Often you catch them looking at you sideways, across a room, and it occurs to you to wonder what they’ve seen; where they’ve been; what odd parade of owners they’ve survived; or on what forgotten, dusty, shelf they were left to deteriorate over the centuries. Typically you can only imagine, but once in a very long while a book wanders through with enough information stored in it, in bookplates, inscriptions, and ephemera, that you can piece together a narrative.

For the narrative (and it’s a doozy), you’ll have to read Tom Nealon’s whole story for yourself. (Great pictures, too.)

One comment

Hey Tim, do you know if this usage of Silva is related to the etymology of anthology (A Gathering Of Flowers)? I.e. was the Greek-rooted word coined in homage to the pun of the Latin word?

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