When you are a Ph.D. student, you build up a comfortable nest of books you want to have around – things that are relevant to your research, that it’s helpful to have handy to dip into rather than get out every time you want to check a reference, books you are quoting constantly, that sort of thing. As a student living away from campus, my stash has been… a bit epic. When I realised I was going to have to return everything before 15th May or else Rutgers wouldn’t let me graduate, I had 63 library books that I hadn’t got around to returning. I’m now down to 25, and it’s quite revealing which books I’m holding on to until the last gasp library run.
There are some books that are holding on because they’re useful for research I’m still up to my elbows in. For instance, I’m using Roy Gibson’s commentary on book three of the Ars Amatoria for preparing the Companion passage; Audre Lord’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and Thomas Waugh’s Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from their Beginnings to Stonewall are background reading for an article I’m writing on queer theory and classical reception, more of which another time. But there are some books that I really don’t want to give back!
The Brothers of Romulus: Fraternal Pietas in Roman Law, Literature, and Society – C.J. Bannon: This volume looks at the concept of brothers in the Roman world, how they interact, what the guidelines for life between brothers are, that sort of thing. I’ve been holding onto this in the vague hope that I would get around to doing enough work on the article I have brewing on Stoic exile to go back to it, but that just hasn’t happened – job interview work keeps on getting in the way. I’ve missed my opportunity, so back to the library it goes.
The Heroes, or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children – C. Kingsley: I don’t want to return this because it will be like losing a piece of art. It’s a gorgeous volume from 1880, with Kingsley’s own illustrations, published by Macmillan of New York, in a gorgeous blue and gold binding. Kingsley basically retold the Greek myths of Perseus, the Argonauts and Theseus in a format fit for children, and it reached a status in the UK similar to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wonder-Book in the States. I got hold of it for some work I’m doing on Hope Mirrlees and her volume Lud-In-The-Mist; a short article I wrote on this for a classics newsletter is up on Academia.edu, but I want to expand my conclusions and make a proper scholarly classical reception article out of it. Unfortunately, I won’t be doing it with this gorgeous edition in my possession. I dread to think how much a copy like this would cost on the second hand books market. Although apparently you can download the Kindle version for free and the text is on Project Gutenberg.
Seeing Seneca Whole: Perspectives on Philosophy, Poetry, and Politics – ed. by G. Williams and K. Volk: another volume in the ‘if I just hang on to this, I will get around to doing the research that needs it’ series. This book is one of the seminal collections of essays on how to think about Seneca as an author with a coherent personality rather than an eclectic writer who shifted his identity as it suited him. That idea is massively important for me as a scholar, given that I want to look at Seneca’s philosophy as an integrated part of his identity as a Roman politician, dramatist and citizen in general. It’s become totemic of my general scholarly approach, I suppose.
Barbie’s Queer Accessories – E. Rand: another one of the side projects I’m working on, as I mentioned about, is about queering antiquity, and that is an offshoot of another reception project I’m working on about Barbie and classical reception. (Yes, really. The conference paper is here.) This was one of the early books I found that talked about that strange and peculiar world known as Professional Barbie Studies, and it was one of the first books that really made me think I was on to something significant and important in what I wanted to say. It’s also fascinating and very well written, which are qualities I always like to see in academic texts.
Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian – S. Treggiari: once described to me as the book which tells you all the things about Roman marriage that you never thought you needed to know. This impressive tome is authoritative for anyone working on Roman marriage (as I do, as part of my broader research into Seneca’s Stoic familial ethics), and as such I’ve often had to go back to it and dip in for this or that reference or legal source. This is the kind of book you take out of the library at the start of a project and never give back because you always find yourself needing to check something out of it every month or so – more frequently than makes it worth returning to the library, anyway. And this is how graduate student caches get started.
Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome – R. Langlands: this book has ended up with a bit more of an emotional cachet than you might have thought through an unusual sequence of events. I have an article due to be published on Fortunata in the Cena Trimalchionis, and I will talk about this another time; but when the readers’ reports came back from this journal, suggesting various things I might do to make my article better, one of them mentioned this book, which I hadn’t come across previously. Like a good little researcher, I chased it up and read through it – only to realise that not only was the work it contained perfect for resolving the issue that the reader had found with my article, but it contained the keystone for resolving a problem I was struggling with in chapter three, and also dovetailed nicely with some thoughts I have been having, on and off, about the Priapea poems for the last few years. The serendipity of everything coming together so neatly has made me quite fond of this book, and I treasure with nostalgia the moment that I realised just how useful it was going to be for almost all the projects I had in progress at that time.
Oh well. Back to the library they will go, and I shall either have to shell out for my own copies, or find another library to borrow from when I get back to the UK to create my hoard anew. In the meantime, I’ve set up my account with the New York Public Library so I won’t have to spend my time between graduation and leaving the States totally bereft. That said, I’ll still miss the on-line access to things like the Oxford English Dictionary and JSTOR – so I suppose I had best prepare myself for the next traumatic phase when the university libraries revoke my electronic access…