Read Me the Blues

I’ve loved libraries from the time I was a kid.  During the mid-1970s I worked at the library at New Heights Elementary School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida for extra credit, and it was there that I discovered James Michener and, at age ten, read Hawaii, a book that shocked me to my young, innocent core, but that told me what books could be, beyond my childhood favorites, Nancy Drew and Trumpeter of the Swan.
(pictured above, Read Me the Blues, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 24×20 inches; below, Friend Me, 2010, silkscreen edition of 500, 22×28 inches)
Libraries are a different world in the digital age.  As a blogger, I’m stunned when I think of the reference materials at my fingertips, compared to the hours I spent in college in front of microfilm and within the stacks.  Although research is faster today, in some ways the experience is similar, as I search quietly through this frontier-like screen, rather than pour through books, piled on the floor around my cross-legged seat in the back corner of a quiet library (an experience I enjoy recreating, actually, within my office).
Instead, libraries are “sense-makers,” writes library architect Maria Lorena Lehman, “a dynamic center for idea interaction.”  They attract not only book-lovers, but also information-lovers.  A librarian provides research assistance and an alternate viewpoint.  Within a library, we surround ourselves with voices and knowledge, as appealing today as it was to Cleopatra some 2,000 years ago, as she studied papyrus scrolls.
There are those who ponder the end of libraries…
…however I argue that libraries, like many things, are merely changing.  Like the increasing appeal of independent bookstores, once thought nearly extinct, libraries nurture not only our passion for knowledge, but also our sentimentality.  Through lectures, children’s events and other programming, they engage and stimulate our communities.  With their very presence, they provide brain food and promote cultural dialogue, crossing all generations.
(Tonight George Rodrigue and I visit Abbeville, Louisiana, presenting a lecture for the Vermilion Library*; among other things, we’ll discuss his new book, a revised and updated version of The Art of George Rodrigue, published 2012 by Harry N. Abrams, New York and available for purchase through your favorite independent bookstore, linked here– )
During last year’s exhibition at The Morgan Library, “The Diary:  Three Centuries of Private Lives,” I thought about not only changes in libraries, but also the apparent death of cursive.  Will our grandchildren understand Marie Courrege Rodrigue’s handwriting, saved within her diary and letters in my keepsake box?  Will they read the “Declaration of Independence” without a typed translation?
(pictured, a mixture of type and cursive from the personal sermons of Marion Edwards, circa 1947, who preached, along with his brother, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, for the Church of the Nazarene; related post here-)
My well-meaning and generous sister gave me a Kindle two months ago, and so far I’ve downloaded one book, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, a reading experiment I’ve yet to begin, although the leather-covered, lightweight computer-book traveled already twice across the country within my carry-on bag (where it remains, awaiting the next trip).
Instead I’m just finishing the biography of Edith Piaf(1915-1963), a gift from my equally generous and bookish friend Emer, a first edition protected from the elements and my hand lotion by one of the clear plastic covers stored flat behind my bookshelves.  She was named Piaf by her agent, a man who guided her for only a few short months before he was shot in the eye and killed by gangsters.  The word “piaf” in French means “sparrow,” and the reference reminds me of a painting of Esther Bigeou, the Creole Songbird, by George Rodrigue (1989; click photo to enlarge-).
Yet, my old-fashioned book attachment is far from all-inclusive.  After all, I’m a blogger.  And, more than once, as I read the story of the tiny French woman with the enormous voice, I run to my computer for a musical intermission-
*also this week:  “Artist Miranda Lake Celebrates Louisiana,” in my latest story for Gambit Weekly, linked here-

*for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook

4 thoughts on “Read Me the Blues

  1. Thank you for your paean to print. Publishers DESIGN books to make the pages beautiful. Yes, pages can be all fonted up on the screen; it's just not the same. I have books I've written in e-form, but I do not own a hand-held device. Can you imagine George Rodrigue creating a painting using just his thumbs?

  2. Although I am seduced by the bright screens and technology in general, I too have resisted the Kindle, iPad, etc. because I like the tactile experience of holding a papered volume (ironic that I had to think of a term for what we used to simply call a "book") in my hands. You remind me of the charms of a library and my own experience of walking the stacks looking for books on the subjects of my history paper on Hernan Cortez. I felt a kinship with him because I too was trying to discover a treasure and a new world – but my exploration was in the Rice University library. To this day that unique scent of books on shelves in old bookstores and libraries is evocative and stimulates wonderful early memories of the excitement of learning. Thanks soooo much for this wonderful piece. I am sending the URL to the library director of our local DeSoto Texas Public Library which hosts our monthly Poetry in Progress meeting.

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