Thursday, September 27, 2012

And what do YOU think?

Alice talked me into going to Open Books a few weeks ago when I was in Chicago for a wedding. I tried to say no, in my defense. And then I wasn't going to buy anything and then I found something I wanted, and then I bought a whole stack of things (= three) because it's Just Wrong to put $5 on a credit card... although then it turned out I had cash. But I bought all the things anyway.

Reference not intended, but I'll take it
So what set me off on this downward spiral? Well, it was a fairly snazzy purple copy of The Book of the Courtier. I'd just come down from an informal reunion at my alma mater so I was feeling susceptible to purple. And then it was nice and new -- there's a post-it note with a few series of page numbers stuck in the front, and lo! there are no books so pristine as those bought by slacker college students.

Why this rando when there's actually an extant portrait of the author?

The Book of the Courtier -- and I suppose there's some deep scholarly reason why Norton has the author's name spelled "Baldasar" and not "Baldassare" -- is what I think of as a Social Studies book. It's something I've mostly encountered for its historical* value and have probably even had as an ID at some point along the line. I took almost no literature classes in college, but I would assume it probably gets discussed in that context too.

I was rather pleasantly surprised with how well the text flows. The format is a kind of courtly debate or discussion: as a "game", the gentlemen of the court are directed to propose and then debate the various skills and qualities that would be possessed by a hypothetical Perfect Courtier. Of course this is all very formal and stylized, and nothing like what we would now call "natural", but Castiglione is very successful at portraying the give and take of a conversation, and the different ways that people express their opinions.

Probably my least favorite aspect of the book was the real estate devoted to "examples" of funny stories. Humor: it doesn't translate across languages or time periods very well. But of course even I can see how this book has a lot to tell us about the culture that produced it. If anything, this historical angle was even a little distracting.

I didn't read the articles in the back because, who's gonna make me?, but I did skim through the one by the improbably named Amedeo Quondam about the origin of the text, and learned how well documented the writing process is. Like, they have the rough drafts and have been able to identify different people's handwriting in the margins. Pretty cool, to say the least.

If I were Alice I would throw in some kind of random GIF here to close this out but... I'm not... so I'm just going to back away awkwardly...

Another post in the books.

*Bah, I really had to stop myself typing "world-historical" there.


  1. "there are no books so pristine as those bought by slacker college students" = so true

  2. Whoa. I would not be able to identify something like someone successfully portraying the "give and take of a conversation." Also this sounds muy scholarly.

    Backing away awkwardly acceptable.

  3. I do the same thing when buying books. It's silly to charge just $5 so I need to pick a couple more first.

    Also I have that same copy of that book and I'm impressed you're reading it just because. College made me read it.