Getting to know my book over the past two semester has been challenging. Especially since I was looking for a certain part of a book in particular. And it happened to be in Italian, a language I unfortunately do not speak.
In the beginning, it felt like I was trying to find Elvis in Las Vegas. My book is famous, so it has many personalities as well as impersonators. In the oldest versions, it’s not even just one book, but two! My book’s different personalities made it hard for me to orientate myself in the gathering of information on it. The online book is not exactly the same as the one I found in the Werner Oechslin library. But they are similar enough, especially in publishing date and contents. But I realized this is just the mark of an Old Book, since they would be printed on commission and therefore are always “bespoke” to a certain degree.
So I felt like I had become online friends with quite a few books. But the time came for me to meet “one” book in person (I’m calling it one for clarity). I was nervous about meeting it in person. Would its difficult personality cause me heart- and headache? At least the location of our rendez-vous was pleasant. I love spending time in the Werner Oechslin library. I went on my own and the librarian introduced me to my books. I made sure to make them comfortable on their soft foam beds and tried to stay as respectful as possible while looking at them.
Meeting the book face to face helped me a lot to understand it better. I could see all the marks of the books’ previous friends and visitors; the librarian told me it had probably been re-bound at least once, which is also proof of its popularity. The signs of regular use also make sense since it’s an early kind of reference work. I tried using it as if I was researching a particular artist. I found that the table of contents didn’t really help me to find the artist I was looking for, which made me disappointed in my new friend. It wasn’t quite as helpful as I hoped it would be when I first saw its index.
But it was quite exciting coming across so many familiar names in the pages. Bramante, Rafael, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci – friends found within a friend. The moment I found my part of the book and the moment I found Leonardo da Vinci’s biography were particularly exciting for me and made me feel warmer feelings for my book than I had had previously.
My relationship with my book was however once again put to the test when I had to convert its pages into a .txt file. It took a few tries to get something somewhat coherent out of it. Luckily most of the book is printed with a classic latin type font and is pretty legible for both a modern reader and a modern OCR. Some more decorative italic parts were harder for the OCR to understand – I know juuust enough Italian to know that what came out of the OCR from those parts was gibberish.
The language barrier has also been a challenge for my friendship with this book. I can recognize certain Italian words and take a guess at the meaning of a sentence, so with the added assistance of a translated OCR text I was able to read a few sentences of my book at a time.
In conclusion: It’s been a rocky road, but I’m glad I met this book.