Thursday, February 03, 2005

Big Books

Martin Kramer blogs about owning the Encyclopedia of Islam in book form:

"As a student, I always had to seek out the encyclopaedia on the library reference shelf, and scour the nearby desks if a volume was missing, so I associate ownership of a personal set with luxury and standing. I wish I had more spare time to leaf idly through the double-columned pages, acquiring knowledge both relevant and arcane. (Would that I had an hour to read through the eleven columns in the supplement devoted to the subject of ghanam, which 'designates the class of small livestock with a predominance, according to the countries, of either sheep or goats.' At a glance, it really does look fascinating.) One could browse like this endlessly."

Proving that even in Middle East Studies left and right can find common ground, I share his love, if not his pocketbook. Even beyond the EI, there's something about big, knowledge-filled books I can never get enough of. Right now on my kitchen table resides Werner Caskel's study of Ibn al-Kalbi's genealogies, and while I don't have a ruler, I assure you that its two volumes will not both fit in my backpack at the same time. A lot of the primary sources I've used have been in these large black volumes from early in the last century with yellowish pages which sometimes fall out on you. One of my friends said she felt like Gandalf - I'm glad I'm not the only one geek enough to make that analogy. There's also always a certain thrill of discovery when you stumble through the stacks until you find an account from peoples long past that illuminates whatever you're working on.

"Knowledge-filled" is not the right word to use here. We don't study - we acquire lore.


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