Friday, April 30, 2010


There’s been so much hustle and bustle getting the apartment ready that I haven’t actually had much time to think about going. But the wonderful thing about passing through the security gates is that it kind of makes it all real. Brett (of CZP fame!) saw me off to the airport as did Laura who actually stayed behind to see me through security. Much to my surprise, it all went rather smoothly.

Unlike the last of the apartment clean-up. The problem with living in the fancy end of town, apparently, is that they have much higher expectations of you. After Laura and Peter spent half a day cleaning the apartment (after the pre-moving, mid-moving, and post-moving clean), we still had to spent two hours this morning on our hands and knees with burning chemicals in order to avoid a $300 charge. Still. After I threatened to cry at our super, he let us off the hook so that I could get some relaxation in before the crazy. Laura and I went rock-climbing. We discovered both of our forearms are seriously out of shape after our two-month hiatus. But at least the physical exercise worked to get rid of traveling stress and panic. I feel quite relaxed right now. And I even avoided the $12 beers.

But things have actually been so crazy I haven’t had a chance to write anything about what I’m actually doing here. Back in February, I received a big travel grant to do research at the Bodleian Library in Oxford under the supervision of the amazing (and terribly funny) Simon Horobin. My goal is to study over a hundred manuscripts to try to figure out what medieval book production had to do with making a text literary. I find this question particularly fascinating now that I’ve started working for CZP where I get to see the difference between books made well and books made badly. I’ll explain more about this later. For now, suffice it to say, readers can tell an awful lot of things about a book by the way it is made. We all judge books by their covers. And by the colour and feel of their pages. And by the quality of the type-setting. And by the resolution of the images. And the fame of the pull-quoters. In fact, typically, the last thing we judge a book on is what’s inside it...because that’s the big unknown, right? Unless you’ve read the book before, all you’ve got is the advertizing and the packaging. So basically I’m looking at the way medieval scribes put together books, the materials they used, the kinds of decoration, the layout in order to get a sense of what they thought about the literature inside—most of which was written in English and therefore only marginally considered to be literature.

So that’s me. Lots of manuscripts. Lots of squinting. Likely, lots of drinking.

After many close calls with Nigerian scam artists, I managed to find accommodations with a bunch of Rhodes scholars in Oxford. I’m actually pretty excited about that because it sounds like there’s a kind of “house” culture, if you know what I mean, rather than just a collection of individuals living together. Having been through a number of “house” cultures really rapidly, I figured this could actually be kind of fun.

Anyway, I think it’s about time for me to drink my water, grab my bags, and get on the plane. Oxford, here I come!