Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities

Young and Modern

Posted in Beinecke Library by beineckepoetry on November 14, 2008

To Do

Posted in Beinecke Library by beineckepoetry on June 7, 2011

To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, by Gertrude Stein; with an introduction by Beinecke Library curator Timothy Young.

Gertrude Stein’s Silly — And Stilted — “To Do”
from Review-a-Day, NPR: A review by Heller McAlpin

Literary wags love to point out the blunders of short-sighted editors of yore who, failing to recognize genius, took a pass on such later-acknowledged masterpieces as James Joyce‘s Ulysses, Dr. SeussAnd to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and John Kennedy Toole‘s A Confederacy of Dunces. What we hear less about are the initially — and perhaps deservedly — rejected manuscripts that later ride into print on the coattails of their author’s renown. Gertrude Stein‘s To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays falls squarely into this group.

Stein wrote To Do in 1940 after the success of her first children’s book, The World is Round (1938). Following a year of rejections, it found a willing publisher in 1942, but the project was tabled during the war. In 1957, Yale University Press published a text-only version in its seventh volume of Stein’s unpublished writings. Now, more than 70 years after Stein wrote it, it has taken To Do off its to-do list by producing the first illustrated edition.

Thanks in large part to Giselle Potter’s whimsical and wondrous illustrations, but also to Yale’s exquisite book design, To Do is a beautiful volume to behold. But even with the boost of Porter’s fabulous zebra-striped landscape for the letter Z and typewriters strolling along an allee of cauliflowers on the H page, To Do is more intriguing literary artifact than delightful read. As Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library, notes in his illuminating introduction, “children are not the core audience for this book.” He cites as hurdles the text’s “challenging linguistic exercises” and “recurrent sense of menace” — though in fact the stories are no grimmer than Grimm and no gorier than Gorey. Young acknowledges that adult readers, too, may find the abstract text demanding. He suggests reading the book aloud, and, “If you have any trouble, read faster and faster until you don’t.”

To complain that Stein — the woman best known for her pronouncement that “a rose is a rose is a rose” — is repetitive is akin to griping that the pope is Catholic. That said, one quickly understands why the long-winded To Do had difficulty finding a publisher. Although there is wit and whimsy and an absurdist sensibility that’s a precursor to Maira Kalman‘s work, it’s buried in dense pages of run-on prose. For each letter of the alphabet, Stein calls up four names — often based on real-life friends — for which she spins circular tales filled with internal rhymes about mutable birthdays and fortunes: “This is the sad story of Leslie-Lily./Lily who always found everything hilly./Leslie’s little Lily’s last birthday.”

There are riches: passages about war, about writer’s block, about multiple births and about a self-immolating giant rabbit. There’s even a passage that expresses our impatience: “And Mr. House said nothing more, because he was not a bore and he would have been of course he would have been if he had said anything more./More More More./Shut oh shut the door.”

My advice: Sample a few pages at a time — no more — or read it from cover to cover and snore.

Beinecke Podcasts

Posted in by beineckepoetry on September 28, 2007

The Beinecke Library produces podcasts of brief talks and interviews about collections and exhibitions, as well as recordings of some public events at the Library. A complete list of available podcasts is online here: Beinecke Library Blogs and Podcasts.

Selected Podcasts

Exhibitions and Collections

MP3 — Exhibition Podcast, Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book

MP3Drawn to Enchant, an interview with Tim Young, associate curator, Modern Books and Manuscripts, about Drawn to Enchant: Original Children’s Book Art in the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection.

MP3 — Exhibition podcast, Documenting Slavery: Exhibition Highlights

Exhibition podcast, “Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind,” a talk by David Alan Richards (a description of the exhibition is available online: Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind); available from Yale University on iTunes U

Events

MP3 — Poet Charles Bernstein reading from his work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series on October 16, 2007

MP3 — Canadian poet Christian Bok reading from his in November 2007

MP3 — Poet Graham Foust reading from his work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series in November 2007

MP3 — Poet Elizabeth Robinson reading from her work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series in November 2007

MP3 — Poet Frank Bidart reading from his work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series in November 2007

MP3 — Poet Donald Hall reading from his work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series in February 2008

Some Beinecke podcasts are also available from Yale University on iTunes U

Images: Photo of Kathleen Hurst, Eric Knight, and Iris Houston, from the Eric Knight Papers; photo of Yehuda Amichai, Lea Goldberg, Yosef Bar Yosef and others from the Yehuda Amichai Papers.

Welcome!

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities features new acquisitions, unique documents, and visual and textual curiosities from the collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. This ongoing exhibition is curated by Tim Young, Associate Curator of the Modern Books and Manuscripts Collection, and Nancy Kuhl, Associate Curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature. Additional information about these and other materials in the Beinecke Library’s collections can be found at the Library’s website: http://www.library.yale.edu/beinecke/

 


About this Site

Posted in by beineckepoetry on July 18, 2007

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities features new acquisitions, unique documents, and visual and textual curiosities from the collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. This ongoing exhibition is curated by Tim Young, Curator of the Modern Books and Manuscripts Collection, and Nancy Kuhl,  Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature.

Additional information about these and other materials in the Beinecke Library’s collections can be found at the Library’s website: http://www.library.yale.edu/beinecke/. Recently acquired materials in the Beinecke Library’s collections can be discovered in the library’s Uncataloged Acquisitions Database: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/acqwww/.

Materials featured on Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities may be protected by copyright restrictions; permission to publish should be sought from the owners of the rights, typically the creator or the heirs to his or her estate. Two websites may be very helpful to researchers who are tracing copyright holders:

WATCH File: The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) is a database containing primarily the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom. WATCH is a joint project of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Reading Library, Reading, England.

U.S. Copyright Office: Includes all the information you need to know to comply with copyright law. A searchable database of records can help you determine if a work is protected by copyright.

dsc_96081Conversation with the Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities curators recently appeared in the  Yale Bulletin and Calendar ; the Yale Daily News; and on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live.

Images: [Photograph of a man and a woman leaning on a balustrade] ; [photograph of a man and a woman in Room 26, or, “Clap your hands, say Yeah!”] (by Yale University photographer Michael Marsland).

NOTE: Comments posted by visitors are moderated.

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities was recently featured in the Yale Bulletin and Calendar.