Okay, my recent attempt at running up my ratings with false promises of smut hasn't panned out as well as I'd hoped. Given the options of upping the smut level (like, say, to real smut) or sticking with the tried-and-true navel gazing, I think I'd rather go with the latter.
Today's post was sparked by Lynda Barry, a remarkable cartoonist whose work was the centerpiece of Drawn & Quarterly Publishing's Free Comic Book Day giveaway. (For the uninitiated, every year comic shops give away free sample comics. Run to your local comic shop and ask if it isn't too late to snag the Lynda Barry title. It's an awesome inspirational item on the topic of writing. Also ask about Fantagraphic's Unseen Peanuts sampler, reprinting old Peanuts strips that haven't been reprinted... until now!)
So, here's a list of books and such I remember from my college library, each of which was important to me at the time in ways that linger.
1. Bound copies of old Life magazines. While other BSC students were doing the things most BSC students do (studying, flirting, playing volley ball, having carnal relations, playing Frisbee, doing the sex thing, drinking to excess, sex sex sex, etc.) I was in the library pouring over old Life magazines. They were a real education in American pop culture. Forgotten celebrities, forgotten trends, weird ads. In-depth articles on movies that sank beneath the waves. Cultural figures, novelists, artists, were covered with the same enthusiasm as stars and pop musicians. There was one article on a crazy new fad dance called "the Rock and Roll!" which showed lots of clean-cut white kids dancing. It had no indication that rock and roll was here to stay, or was a music form rather than a fad dance.
2. Bound copies of old Broadway theatre reviews. The school had review clippings from the major New York papers for every Broadway show, going back for decades. I learned a lot about the cultural context of old shows; how they were received when they first came out. I also learned how many Broadway shows appear and disappear without anyone seeming to notice or care.
3. A weird History Of Human Civilization book from who knows when. I grabbed it off the shelf purely by accident; I think I was reaching for a nearby book and just twitched the wrong way. I wish I remembered the author's name; he made it clear that as far as he was concerned, there were two things that had screwed up the human race: clothing and religion. He disproved the existence of God (at least to his satisfaction) in a short footnote. The Internet gives us access to crank theories by the truckload, but in those just-prior-to-widespread-Internet-access days this book astonished me. I mean,t here are cases to be made for athiesm and nudism, but making them the key themes of a history textbook seems a little Procrustean. It was a big fat book, and the guy had obviously put years of his life into it.
4. A book about Hamlet. Once again I don't remember the title or author, but it had a contrarian theory about Hamlet interpretation (Hamlet isn't suicidal, isn't faking craziness) that Boldly Denounced Establishment Consensus Thinking. I ate up contrarian easy answers in my student days, and proceeded to make a fool of myself in various classes on Shakespeare, defiantly brandishing this book. At least I didn't join the Anti-Stratfordians (yeesh!)
5. A biography of The Sun King, Louis the 16th. Again I don't remember title or author, and this is the one I'd most like to see again. It was a older book, written by a professor who took a fiercely partisan enthusiasm for his subject. His account of the King's life was gossipy and vicious to the King's enemies. I think the author was in love with his subject in a literal way. I imagine him as a lonely queen teaching in a small, dull midwestern town, leaning on the windowsill and dreaming of a flamboyant, fashionable dandy carrying him off to a lavish, taxpayer-supported pleasure palace. It was kind of sweet, in a sad way.
6. Some Women by Robert Mapplethorpe. Boy, do I regret checking this thing out. I was on a big photography kick: I'd become a (totally) amateur shutterbug, and checked out every book of artsy or journalistic photography in the library. One day I checked out this item and, as I had so many times before, sat in the theatre lobby between classes flipping through my latest library book. As often happened, other students looked over my shoulder to see what I was looking at. The answer in this case turned out to be, not least to my surprise: naked children. You can imagine the fallout from that! I certainly didn't check out the book (a book that specifically mentioned Women in the title) with nekkid younguns in mind. One of the other students then present (let's call her Minney) is still involved in local theatre, and she's always been really mean to me, but would never tell me why. Turns out that, according to a mutual friend, Minney is convinced I'm a pedo on the basis of that darn book. Well. The one picture I remember from the book that involved nekkid kids was a portrait of naked Susan Sarandon and her naked children. If Minney thinks I was looking at that because I was interested in the kids, well, maybe someone should introduce her to Occam's Razor. C'mon, you can barely see the kids in this photo; they're cast in the twin shadows of their Mom's bosom! I'm not a breast man, but I am a Susan Sarandon's breast man, so given a choice between focusing my attention on the aforementioned breasts or, well, just about anything, including kids in any state of dress, there's no contest.