Episode 022: The Library of Thorvald Boeck
In which we discuss side hustles, slide guitar, and book collecting
Technically, I'm a librarian. Licensed by the state of New Jersey and everything.
But really, I'm an archivist. That's a very different thing. I take old things and put them in boxes so people can find them later.
So, not so much with the books. Much more with the crawling around in basements and finding hidden chests with ancient scrolls.
Well, something like that.
I work about a hundred feet from a number of actual librarians who do get to play with books all day. I envy them that.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do, it's the perfect job for me to do by day while I play the part of a struggling artist by night.
Anyway, I love books. And the painting of books that got me going this week is Harriet Backer’s 1902 The Library of Thorvald Boeck.
Until I compose something about Hemingway, it's unlikely there will be another piece of music of mine that has typewriter sounds in it.
I understand that this was painted at a time when most authors were still writing in longhand, and certainly, most of the books collected in this room were written before the personal typewriter existed. But that sound just says old-timey writing to me.
Do you like the slidey guitars? I like the slidey guitars. The guitars are tuned WAY down for this. It almost sounds like the strings are falling off the fretboard.
Lots of different key centers going on. The bass is in A minor I think, and the piano is in G major which gives the beat kind of a suspended, floaty feel. The little cornet melody doesn't even make any sense. It moves from D major to E major to F major and back. Plenty of dissonances, but overall everything mostly agrees with each other [after a while].
Ultimately it had to be a happy beat. The tempo is slow and a little spooky sounding up front, but it ends up pretty cheerful sounding I think. I mean, who wouldn't be happy sitting in that room? Had to get that across.
So many noteworthy paintings of libraries:
The Bookworm has been hanging in one room or another in every place I've lived as an adult.
The Library by Jacob Lawrence is stunning.
And if only because of its name, The Shop of the Bookdealer Pieter Meijer Warnars on the Vijgendam in Amsterdam by Johannes Jelgerhuis makes the list. [Pro tip: it's not only because of its name].
The Library of Thorvald Boeck though – this one’s got the catnip. Muted colors. Victorian-era furniture. Those tall library bookcases that require a ladder.
Plus the story of Thorvald Boeck. This painting is of just one part of the lawyer’s private library, which was the largest in Norway.
Back to Backer, whose art and actions inspired a new generation of artists. Art academies were reserved for men, but her supportive parents afforded private instruction – and Backer paid that forward, opening a painting school where she herself taught women until 1910. (Fun fact: her sister, Agathe, is regarded as Norway’s preeminent female concert pianist.)
This reduction pretty much designed itself: the bookcases, the tables and chairs, the plant. Thank you for making it easy on me, Ms. Backer.
My favorite library in any painting, movie, book, song, or real life is Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Library of Babel”.
The basic concept: the universe is a gigantic library filled with hexagonal rooms and shelves containing every possible configuration of 25 basic characters into 410-page books. Librarians live there and wander around forever.
Does that sound terrifying? It’s wonderful.
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and books!!!], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.