September 2019 is the beginning of a very unusual kind of friendship, my friendship with an old book called “Villas of the Ancients Illustrated” by Robert Castell.
At first, I was not very excited about this arrangement because first of all, I was originally paired with another book, that was unfortunately not physically available. Therefore, I got reassigned and had to form a friendship that was not even meant to be in the first place.
Second of all, I felt as if I was forced to “bond” with a totally unknown book. I had no idea what to expect and how this relationship was going to work. But in hindsight, I have to admit that this has been be a unique and very valuable experience.
Honestly, I was afraid to even start this friendship with my book. I asked myself how it is even possible to be “friends” with an object. Furthermore, I had never read something this old. I somehow imagined fragile, pale pages that were hardly able to read. Hence, it was a great relief to find out that this book was written in English and not too long ago (18thcentury).
Step by step I got to know “Villas of the Ancients Illustrated”. The first big leap towards this friendship was the meeting at the Werner Oechslin Bibliothek. When I first saw that heavy big book laying in front of me, I had the usual difficulties of every friendship. I was shy and not courageous enough to “open up”. Approaching it, I got really impressed, espeacially by the images of the different villas. I didn’t expect to understand much of the content. But fortunately, I was proven wrong.
Every friendship has low points, and so does this. I was disappointed when I did task “Lineage” and found out that there were no newer editions or translations of the book. The book was written very well and the images were very impressive. But somehow nobody actually spent time with this work and therefore the book did not have further publications. So, I realized that this book was not appreciated enough and maybe not even taken seriously.
When did I start thinking of “Villas of the Ancients Illustrated” as a friend? I think, I came to that point by doing the very last task. For that task, I did not only read but genuinely understood the importance of the content for the author and I felt like actually knowing a book without reading all of it. I’m convinced that I would form a much stronger friendship if I had actually read it page by page. However, I find this kind of relationship also very interesting since it is a completely new experience.
Triggering about these tasks was that I had no further sources (like secondary literature) other than my own research work in order to get to know this book. The beginning was challenging but now, I feel more comfortable working with older books. I learned how to approach books that seem alien. And I think it helped me for future researches when I will be less reluctant to work with old(er) books and maybe even become friends with them.