Books as art at the Beinecke

I am a self-confessed bibliophile. I love everything there is about books, and the older the book is, the better it is, in my book – tragically weak pun intended. There is something utterly alluring about cracking open a well-worn tome – the aroma, the feel of the fragile pages, the yellowing paper. It adds to the enjoyment of the book itself, wondering how many people from bygone ages have turned those pages and savoured those words. One of my major concerns when moving to a new town is how to pack and transport my ever-growing library of second-hand books. One of the first things I do when I get settled in a new town is to locate the nearest second-hand bookshop so I can add to my library. Each move becomes a little bit more cumbersome than the last, as you can imagine.

This weekend, I found myself in New Haven, Connecticut; home to Yale University and their famed Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. How could I resist? I went along not knowing quite what to expect, and was bowled over by this incredible gem of a library. From the outside it is a gleaming, chequered, rectangular building of translucent marble.

Walk through the doors, however, and the gleaming facade becomes a distant memory. The marble that shines so brightly from the outside takes on a delicious brownish hue inside the building, transmitting the faintest of light devoid of damaging rays that could harm the delicate pages of the rarest of books.

And there, right in the centre of this dimly glowing building, is a glass-encased tower of stacked book shelves, towering impossibly high above your head, reaching right up to the ceiling.

Shelves and shelves of the most tantalising books, the majority leather-bound, some brightly embossed, some dulled with age, all beautiful.

On the upper level, some books were singled out for special attention; the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon’s The Birds of America amongst them. In the eerie half-light, the books almost seemed to be levitating mid-air. It was magical.

As luck would have it, there was a ‘Remembering Shakespeare’ exhibit on display, telling the story of how Shakespeare came to be remembered as the most venerated author of all time.

First Folio

Fabulous illustration of the witches from the Scottish play

Another exhibit piece that caught my eye was a set of playing cards from 1930s London, using Dickens’ best-loved characters as their theme.

Of course Uriah Heep was the knave

As I was on my way out, I stopped to chat with security, and asked them which lucky people got to snuffle through all those incredible books. They told me, to my delight, that anyone can read the books there, provided you supply a driver’s license, or a passport if you’re from overseas. Their catalogue of books is available online. That service is only available from Monday to Friday, however, so I shall have to return mid-week at some point and crack open a well-worn tome or two.

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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18 Responses to Books as art at the Beinecke

  1. This was a fabulous post! Beautiful photographs. It must have been a truly interesting place to visit.

  2. Pamela says:

    Now that’s what I call being in wonderland! Thanks for showing.

    • ailsapm says:

      Perfect analogy, it was definitely my idea of Wonderland – and walking through those doors to see that giant glass tower of books felt a little like I’d gone through the looking glass and had shrunk down to the size of a teacup!

  3. Beautiful photos, as always!

  4. Northern Narratives says:

    Wow, I love books, what a great place 🙂

  5. I love libraries inside and out! Thanks.

  6. A visit to the Beinecke is in my future. Thanks!

  7. Lynne Ayers says:

    I’ve been known to sniff at the pages of a book or two for that book smell. Reading off a computer screen lacks all the tactile enjoyment of reading, holding a book and feeling the pages.

  8. markd60 says:

    I just read another post about the history of the Queen of Hearts. It had that same picture of the Queen of Hearts card.
    Deja vue!

    • ailsapm says:

      What a coincidence. You just made me look up the history of playing cards, it’s actually really interesting. Thanks for sending me off down that avenue, Mark! 🙂

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