Rare Book School: That good book smell

Opening this week’s Shelf Awareness newsletter was quite refreshing. Headlines and blurbs like “Publishers Urged to Support Stores to Boost E-Book Sales” and “Amazon’s Mobile Expansion: ‘Five or Six’ Tablets?” were delightfully followed by the likes of this: “Classes in Session for ‘Rare Book School’ Students.”

But huh? What is this Rare Book School?!

Founded at Columbia University in 1983  by scholar Terry Belanger, Rare Book School is now located in Charlottesville, VA, with a mission to provide instruction on the history of written, printed, and born-digital materials. In classes like History of BookbindingIntroduction to Western Codicology, and Type, Lettering and Calligraphy (1450-1830), students and enthusiasts from all backgrounds and disciplines are given the opportunity to study books and original manuscripts with leading scholars and professionals in the field.

Nook. Kindle. iPad. How deep is your e-book love? Tell us in the comments!

The Shelf Awareness piece pointed to Rare Book School’s recent New York Times Arts Section feature, where the University of Virginia’s program was described as a five-week seminar that “brings some 300 librarians, conservators, scholars, dealers, collectors and random book-mad civilians together for weeklong intensive courses in an atmosphere that combines the intensity of the seminar room, the nerdiness of a Star Trek convention and the camaraderie of a summer camp where people come back year after year.” And bless their hearts for doing so.

Now, I’ll be first to admit that I’m a reluctant Nook devotee. A year ago, I wouldn’t have given the e-reader a chance if a special someone hadn’t bought me a Nook for Valentine’s Day — that and the hard copy of my book-of-the-month was mysteriously spirited away. These were the only ways I’d even consider that e-books were real, that they were reliable, and that, yes, they could tell just as good a story.

But the truth is that e-books tell a different kind of story, and quite frankly, I sometimes prefer the one my hard copy pages tell instead. In Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times piece, 18th century lit specialist Michael Suarez breaks it down beautifully. “A book is a coalescence of human intentions,” he said to explain the importance of the book’s materiality (a new word I learned today!).  “We think we know how to read it because we can read the language. But there’s a lot more to reading than just the language in the book.” Everything from the particular ink to that certain typeface and then the tree paper from which the pages originate tell the story of time and culture. Liking the smell of a good book is taken to new heights.

Rare Book School indulges like minds with such appreciation and instruction, and applications to the school’s October course,  Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts (M-50), are now being accepted. The course will be taught by Roger Wieck, the Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at NYC’s Morgan Library and Museum. To take your appreciation for old books — or just hard copies, in general — to the next level, click here for course info or to download the application. It just might be a five weeks well spent.

What’s one book you own in hard copy and electronic form? Tell us in the comments!