What I have been doing with my fancy university library card

Scaring myself, mostly. This library has a lot of books inside of it, but it also has the scariest damn stacks I ever saw. They have these dark, narrow aisles, and the doors in the stairwells between levels swing open and shut with loud, prolonged, ominous squeaks. I always have the exact call numbers of the books I want before I go, because sitting down at one of the catalogue computers, with my back to the darkened stacks, does not inspire feelings of comfort and safety. The main aisles are lit, but you have to press a button to turn on the lights in the individual rows of books, and these lights are set to go off automatically after a certain amount of time. What that means is that when I am walking down the main aisles, the lights are going off around me. It is scary as hell. I swear I can hear David Tennant’s voice going “Stay out of the shadows.” (Every shadow? No. But any shadow.)

(If you think that’s the geekiest thing I’m going to say in this post, you just could not be more wrong.)

I have realized it is no good to research fairy tales right now. The books of Warner, Zipes, and Tatar, as well as the Mirror, Mirror on the Wall that y’all recommended to me, are at my public library at home. I paid a fortune for my damn library card to this terrifying university library, and I’m going to use it to read books I couldn’t get at home. I shall be researching South Indian temple dancers, devadasis, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I read From Sacred Servant to Profane Prostitute on Saturday. This book, which was way too in love with its alliterative title, is an overview of the legal status of devadasis in this time period, mainly in Bombay and Madras. I am not as interested in their changing legal status (although that is interesting) as I am in their social status, but never mind, I learned lots of useful things. (I wrote down the names of a bunch of other books to track down after this.)

My most favorite thing that I learned from this book: When national and local laws removed the economic incentive for families to dedicate their daughters to deities, and finally outlawed the dedications altogether, a bunch of the devadasis went away and become stars of the stage and screen.

I also checked out a bunch of books about television. I read a book of articles about The West Wing and gained immense satisfaction from reading about its political bents, relation to truth, and implications of audience demographics. Then I read a book full of articles about Angel, which was better to the exact degree that I love Angel better than The West Wing (which is a degree that is quite considerable). It would be difficult to convey to you using only my words how much I enjoyed reading these articles about Angel. There was this one that talked about the musical themes used for the different characters, and the way the show uses them to convey the way the characters are changing – this is the kind of thing that fascinates me but I don’t tend to notice it when I’m watching a film or TV show. Another article explored the problematic racial dynamics in the show which, y’all, can get quite cringe-inducing (oh, God, that episode where Cordelia’s determined to save Gunn from himself makes me want to shrivel up and die).

Tale of woe: J. August Richards, the actor who plays Gunn on Angel, was a huge Star Wars fan when he was a kid, and he totally loved Han Solo. But whenever he and his friends would play Star Wars, they made him be Lando Calrissian because he was black.

I sometimes joke with my family that my calling in life is finding articles about things. I am constantly going on the internet to find informative and authoritative articles about whatever I am currently interested in sounding knowledgeable about. I am constantly reporting information that I have learned from reading random articles from MetaFilter, Arts and Letters Daily, The Browser, Salon, and Slate. I do not know that finding articles is actually my calling, but I certainly do enjoy it. When they are articles about topics that enthrall me, such as wonderful books or wonderful films or wonderful TV shows, I enjoy it even more. For an English major who passionately hated every history of criticism class I took at university, I am mad for actual criticism.

I have several other books full of scholarly articles about other beloved TV shows: Doctor Who, Buffy, Firefly, and The Wire. If the library had had books about other TV shows I love, you know I’d have checked them out too. I will be reading them in due course because I have adjudged this to be a worthwhile use of the money I have spent on this library card and the terror I experience every time I set foot in the library stacks. I may or may not have plans to curl up on my sofa tonight with cheesy fries and Investigating Firefly and Serenity.

(Don’t judge. Memory understands me. I think. (You do, don’t you, Memory?))

Part of this pop culture scholarship rampage is down to sadness that all my long-anticipated things have happened. Enchanted Glass came out, and The White Road came out. I read ARCs of Curse of the Werewolf Girl and Monsters of Men, and now Doctor Who is finished and over. It’s sad, dude, I’m sad about it, sad in my heart. Of course there is always The Guild, whose fourth season starts in a few weeks, and then a while after that there will be fall TV, which is fun to look forward to. So you can see how a girl would require some scholarly consideration of Wesley’s comedic timing.

Y’all, am I alone in this? Is my pleasure in close readings and feminist interrogations of my best-beloved books and shows indicative of serious mental disturbance? Tell me the truth. I can take it. Also, have you ever been in a scary library? Do you feel (as I slightly do) that the scariness is instilling you with a healthy respect and awe for knowledge?

  • So many great things in this post, but I’m brain dead and highly entertained by the idea of the lights in the stacks. I would die. Flat ass die if I were browsing in creepy stacks and got left in the dark.

    • So far it’s never happened that I’ll be in an aisle and have the lights go out in that aisle. It’s only been walking down the main aisle (which is always lit) and having the lights on either side of me go out. Before I go into one of the side aisles, if the light’s already on for that aisle, I turn it off and then on again. Just to make sure. I would probably start crying if the light in my aisle turned off. Brrrr.

  • Ooh, a creepy library! I’ve never been in one like it, but just picturing those lights going out by themselves in the aisles gives me the shivers.

    • I’ve never been in a library that felt scary to me at all – impressive, sure, maybe even intimidating. But this library is flat scary. I keep thinking how it would be a great place for a murder in a film to happen, which is NOT a comforting line of thought. :p

  • “Is my pleasure in close readings and feminist interrogations of my best-beloved books and shows indicative of serious mental disturbance?”

    Nope. It is indicative of awesomeness 😛 Knowing that there will be geeky scholarly books to look forward to makes me want to watch Buffy even more. (Which I will this summer! Because what I said about books also applies to DVDs, though DVDs are lighter and could technically move abroad with me. But I’m determined to watch the first two seasons this summer anyway.)

    • Thank you for the validation! But I wouldn’t advise reading the Buffy scholarly books until you’ve watched all seven seasons, or at least the first five. I’m excited to see what you think of Buffy – I have probably said this already, but don’t be like me and give up if you don’t like the pilot episode, or even the first few episodes. It gets better, I swear.

  • Everything is worth analysis, especially our pop culture- it reflects our society as a whole. Analysis of Firefly is fascinating, because of the race issues it presents, no matter how well it does with its female characters. It just means you’re awesome in a fannish way.

    • Hahaha, thanks. Yeah, I wish there had been more books about Firefly. I know the library owns at least two more, but someone’s got them checked out until 2011. Grrrr.

  • The creepy library reminds me of the old main library on campus when I was a college freshman. The dark hallways, though neither cold nor airy, didn’t provoke a comfy feeling at all. The vastness of the “Main Stacks” always promoted the echoes. When the book collection was relocated to the new underground facility that was 10 times bigger, I rather missed that old, creepy, smelly dungeon of shelves. You no longer have to turn on lights in aisles because the books are now on rolling shelves.

    • Rolling shelves? How does that even work?

  • That does sound like a very creepy library, though I guess that sometimes a good book requires a bit of sacrifice. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a scary library though. Anyplace full of free books is heaven to me.

    • Before meeting this library, I would have said so too. This library is forcing me to revise my opinions and say, anyplace full of free books and lacking a pissingly terrifying ambience is heaven. (That really isn’t as pithy.)

  • Two things: 1) I really, really miss having a university library card. You can get books at universities that never show up anywhere else. 2) University libraries are always scary. I think it’s part of some overall Plan. All students must want knowledge enough to brave looming bookshelves, strange shadows, an entirely different system of call numbers, and a certain amount of dust.

    • 1) When I graduated from university, the saddest thing was the day they emailed me to let me know my library account was no longer active. I nearly cried.

      2) My university library wasn’t scary at all! Except for the different system of call numbers – I know LC is precise and was invented by Thomas Jefferson or something, but it’s not as friendly for browsing.

  • I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND. When you linked to the Angel book, I said, “Dude! I read that! It was my first foray into Angel studies!” (Sidebar: I bought the book in a little bargain books store in Skipton, a wee nine-hundred-year-old town in Yorkshire. It was a 3-for-£5 deal, so I also got THE THIRTEENTH TALE and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES. I then went to their castle and helped them celebrate their nine-hundred-year-old history).

    Media criticism is teh awesome. I love stuff that explores any of my favourite shows or movies. A night spent with media criticism is a good night in my book.

    • You’ve been to Skipton?!? I was just on holiday in Skipton! Lovely little town.

    • I KNEW YOU WOULD UNDERSTAND ME.

      I wish now I’d checked out all their Buffy books. For some reason I limited myself to one, but I let myself take out both Firefly books and all the Doctor Who ones. Sometimes I don’t understand the rules I make for myself.

      • I need to find some Doctor Who books. That’s my big media criticism gap. I’ve read tons about Buffy, and a little bit about Angel and Firefly, but nothing on Doctor Who. Sigh.

        (Also: Skipton is as lovely as Teresa says. They have a nice little market, too. I met a guy there who got me addicted to lemon curd).

  • Goodness, I do hope you follow that awesome everything-Joss Whedon site called Whedonesque to pick up essays and other news about anything and everything in Whedonverse 🙂 Gee, I’d like to get my hands on Investigating Firefly and Serenity. I just watched Serenity (for the nth time) last week. Lovely.

    Loved this post.

    • I follow it but not regularly – I always find interesting posts when I visit, but it’s not a regular stop on my daily internet browsing. Whenever I visit there, I feel depressed that my Whedon shows are no more. :p

  • You are aware of Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association aren’t you? (http://slayageonline.com) I fell out of the habit of reading it when I no longer had a job that mostly required me to sit quietly in an office and sometimes edit something, but back when I did have lots of stare at a computer and look busy without being busy time, Slayage was my reading material of choice.

    • Hahaha, I discovered it yesterday and spent the bulk of the morning downloading PDFs of all the articles ever written there. It was not my coolest morning in any sense of the word: 94 degrees and no AC, and there’s me in pajamas eating ice cream out of the container and downloading articles all about Buffy. I’m going to dole them out to myself on days when I feel depressed. 🙂

  • anna

    TELL ME ABOUT SCHOLARLY CONSIDERATION OF WESLEY’S COMEDIC TIMING! seriously, I’m now intensely curious, and I love remembering the good old days when he was pathetic and funny.

    (Tee hee, remember that time he and cordelia acted out buffy and angel for fred?)

    • You know, it mentioned that scene. Let’s see, what else did it talk about? I think mostly it was talking about how the show uses Wesley’s physical comedy to reorient our sympathies for him rather than against. Because if we remembered him from Buffy, he was very obnoxious. And also how his physical and verbal humor were all to set him up as a foil for Angel.

  • Your university library does look scary – reminds me of the libraries in ‘The Historian’ and the bookshop in ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ 🙂 Interesting that you are researching on South Indian temples and devadasis. Did you read a little bit about Bharathanatiyam too – the dance form which devadasis practised and which in a modified form is performed in India today? Have you visited South Indian temples? Sorry, have so many questions 🙂

    Hope you have a wonderful time researching and discovering articles on all your favourite subjects!

    • I’m reading about the dance form, yes, though not as much – I was taking zillions of notes about the pieces a typical concert would have included in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as compared to now. No, I’ve never been to India at all, although I’m dying to. I have a friend whose family is from Mumbai and she said she’ll take me someday.

      • anna

        The female friend of mine you met up here used to be pretty into indian dance (I forget names, she did two forms and explained to me how opposite they are) you should ask her about it.

  • Katy

    I hate Roland Barthes too! So much so that when I go to minor league baseball games in Alaska and they play a peppy little song that goes “Old dog Spot got hit by a car, hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba,” I sing, “Roland Barthes got hit by a car,” because he actually did get hit by a car, and people actually go visit the spot where this happened, and I would much rather think about that happening to Roland Barthes than to some poor innocent dog.

    Also, if you don’t already know it, may I recommend the show Homicide, Life on the Street? It’s sort of the precursor to The Wire, and it’s at least as good as The Wire, though to be truly honest I think that the first three seasons of Homicide are better than any other TV ever. I didn’t discover it until just recently because the title made me think it was going to be some kind of hard-core shoot-’em-up, which it isn’t at all. It’s more of an ensemble drama with lots of conversations and no car chases, and I’m pretty sure you would adore Bayliss.

    I kind of like Wesley when he’s all bearded and broody. He’s much better-looking that way. I like Angel best when he’s funny, though.

    • He really got hit by a car? Hit by a car and that’s how he died? Wikipedia says yes. A laundry van. Poor dude.

      I’ve never heard of it – AT LEAST as good as The Wire? That’s quite a claim! But I’m heartened by the non-shoot-em-up thing. I’m not big on police procedurals, which is one reason I waited so long to watch The Wire.

      I guess he’s better-looking, but I don’t need him to be better-looking. Angel and Gunn are there to please my eyes. The group dynamic got depressing when Wesley got all beardy. I missed him being funny and yearning for Angel’s approval all the time.

      • Katy

        Yes, I suppose it’s horrible of me to mock Roland Barthes’s death. Now I feel guilty. I don’t normally do that sort of thing. I just hated his criticism so much.

        Homicide was based on the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon, who later went on to make The Wire, so the two shows are kind of like companion volumes. Simon was a journalist with the Baltimore Sun, and the book is about a year he spent observing one shift of the Baltimore homicide squad. The first few seasons of the show stick pretty closely to the events of the book, even to the extent of allowing a major case that was unsolved in real life to remain unsolved in the show. Homicide is a very different show from The Wire, though. It’s more character-based, for one thing, where The Wire is more plot-based, it’s got more humor and it’s not quite as relentlessly bleak in its vision of humanity, but it’s brilliantly written and the cast is phenomenal. I recommend the book, too, by the way.

  • Katy

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that my university library had stacks like that with timed lights, and it was creepy. Who knows, maybe it’s the same library. (I went to Brown, and I miss it terribly.)

    • It is so creepy. I know it’s environmentally sound but it’s unsettling.

  • You just made me go like this:

    O.O

    Because I just realized that since my husband works for a major research university, I might be able to use their library. So I checked out their website, and it says:

    Spouses of current faculty, faculty emeriti, staff and students, as well as domestic partners have library reading and borrowing privileges.

    I never thought of that until now!!! Of course, now I have to go get the card in some office somewhere on campus, and that alone terrifies me, but eventually I’ll get it done (I agree with you, big libraries are somewhat intimidating!). Thank you so much for this post!!!! I’ve already been poring through their online catalog and they have a bunch of books from my TBR list that the public library does not. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!

    • Don’t be terrified! I was completely intimidated to get my library card, because this is quite an intimidating university, but the people at the library card office were very sweet and friendly.

      I’m so excited for you! University libraries are wonderful, and they are also good for interlibrary borrowing. I used to use the ILL program at my university ALL THE TIME.

  • Wow! That library does indeed sound scary! I am glad that you are getting the full use of your card though. And, I admire you for searching out the things that interest you and then finding out more about them. Most people aren’t like that. They stay in their comfortable surroundings paying attention only to the things that are delivered right to them. It’s nice to know that someone out there has an inquisitive mind and spirit, and actually takes the time to get to know the things that interest her.

    • Aw, thanks. That’s really nice, I feel so flattered! You would probably admire me less for this trait if we were friends in real life, because I assume that everyone around me is going to find all my new information interesting. So I tell them it. At length. My family could practically write a book about Oscar Wilde behind my high school & college (and, okay, ongoing) obsession with him. :p

      • anna

        Yeah, but usually it’s interesting stuff. And you tell it in an interesting way. I enjoy your obsessions entirely. (usually. When you were reciting the kings and queens, it was pretty boring to listen to, though a very impressive feat). Milton was my favorite.

        Just think: when I obsess about something it’s usually something relatively boring to people other than me, and requires a certain amount of background knowledge to appreciate it, and rarely has funny stories. You, on the other hand bring us information about Oscar Wilde, Richard III, stonewall riots, superman v KKK, all sorts of fun stories.

  • Mumsy

    That tale of woe is the woefullest thing I have heard all day, and I’m not even kidding. My eyes filled up with tears and I’m still blinking and blur-eyed.

    • I know, isn’t it awful? Poor Jaugust.

  • Hmm, maybe I haven’t experienced the really scary university libraries. OSU wasn’t scary the few times I was there. The U of MD at College Park library felt so much like home that it’s one of the few places I’ve ever fallen asleep in public. I can imagine the library of Congress being scary in the stacks at night, but I was only ever there during the day. I work in a college library now; it’s a clean, well-lighted place.

    While so far I haven’t seen much allure in criticism about favorite books and shows, it doesn’t seem weird. Especially about Firefly, because there’s never enough of that, sadly.

    • Until coming here, I didn’t know there were scary university libraries out there. I thought libraries were, by default, wonderful and glorious places filled with physical and metaphorical light. NOPE.

      Reading all this stuff about Firefly makes me wish so hard that it could come back. I should really just give up, but there’s still a part of me that believes that Joss Whedon’s going to be able to do another season of it. Or another movie! Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

  • I love your description of the library! One of our campus libraries scares me because it has movable shelving. The one time I went in it, I was afraid someone would come by and squash me. Yours sounds a lot more eerie.

    • anna

      Oh horrors! How could you bear to ever go in a place with movable shelving? I would be terrified every minute. Granted, from what I’ve heard from Jen and others, her library would also terrify me, but at least it wouldn’t squish me with an electrical error!

    • Okay, seriously, I don’t understand what movable shelving is. How does that work? What if someone came in and moved all the shelves and put them in the wrong order?

  • Be careful, seriously. That place sounds Gothic.

    Thanks for the tip-off about the West Wing book! My writing has politics only in the background, but I loved that show. Still do.

    • I liked it up until the fourth season, and then I kind of burned out on it. One of these days I’m going to go back and finish watching it – in retrospect, watching the whole thing on DVD, episode after episode, probably isn’t the best way to enjoy a show as dense as that one.

      The library isn’t even Gothic! If it were properly Gothic I think I’d enjoy it more. But the shelves are all metal, and the ceilings are all low. It’s completely claustrophobic, but Mrs. Radcliffe wouldn’t set a novel there. :p

  • justbookreading

    I loved this post. Buffy and Angel are my two soft spots and I’ve been so happy to find re-runs on one of my many useless (but not now!) cable channels. I’m now re-living Buffy from the start. Oh, the love…

    I gotta say, that library sounds horrid. I’d be worried what I’d find around the corner. I won’t even go to the top floor in my public library, which amuses me to know end. As if the books are going to fly off the shelves and attack my ankles or something.

    • Hahah, it would be too hard for me to wait for reruns on the television. I bought the DVDs. Used, though. Well, some of them. My sisters and I love to rewatch them all the time. 🙂

  • Oh I SO WANT to read that book about THE WEST WING. How seriously awesome. I knew there was a reason that show was the best ever.

    • It was interesting! I would have liked to have seen some breakdowns of party sides on different issues and how the characters advocating for each side are portrayed. Because I did sometimes feel (and I say this as a liberal myself) the conservatives weren’t getting a fair hearing.

  • I love your most favorite thing that you learned about temple dancers. That so has the seeds of a novel in it. Preferably a novel with a scene in creepy library stacks. I hate those lights, because when they go off, making you startle unpleasantly, then you have to get up and run through the dark with your heart pounding to where the sensor is. Or where you THINK it is. And sometimes you are wrong. EVIL. Just give me a switch. I’ll turn it off when I leave. I promise.

    So they can’t dedicate their daughters to a deity anymore. But can a daughter dedicate herself to a deity?

    • Mine aren’t on sensors, they’re on switches. But it’s timed switches, so after whatever amount of time, they switch themselves off. It’s fine as long as I don’t sit down and read in one of the aisles – which I have no inclination whatsoever to do!

      Umm, I am not sure. Because one of the issues was that the girls were supposed to be dedicated to the deity before they hit puberty, and the British governing people (as well as, a bit later on, a lot of the Indian elite) were concerned that they were being forced into prostitution as kids, and it was in aid of stopping that that they passed reform laws. I’m not sure how it would work if a grown-up woman wanted to dedicate herself to the temple, in modern times.

  • I don’t think we have creepy libraries on the west coast. Anyway, I spent most of my time in a marine biology library that was right on the water at the University of Washington. So not creepy.

    But now it’s bugging me because there was a book I read in the last couple of years where a young woman is in a library like that and thinks someone else is in there when … the … lights … click … off. Am I creeping you out? 😉 I wish I could remember the book!

    And, just so I can keep commenting forever, the library episodes totally made me sad … the ghost voices coming from the communications units. Heartbreaking! And Donna losing everything … sob! And it is truly scary.

    • You’re not creeping me out – at least not any more than I already creep myself out every time I walk into that library. I can’t stop thinking about how scary it would be if I heard a noise and then the lights went out. But casting it in terms of Doctor Who makes it a fun sort of scary, rather than, like, a serial killer in the stacks kind of scary. :p

  • Your library sounds SO much like the university library where I live that I am actually beginning to wonder whether you are in England…? The timer switch on the bookstacks plunges me regularly into a very creepy darkness. I’m convinced I’m going to get murdered up there one of these days. Cover your back, do.

  • It would be hard not to scream if the lights went off next to me, even if I knew the reason. Yikes! I am all shivery just reading your description.

    I once worked at a law firm with moveable stacks–they are on a track, so they can only expand to allow space to access the books, or contract so there is no space to walk between them. And they moved via a large “Yes, master, Igor will turn” 4-handled wheel crank, which was creepy. I hated going into them. Even with the lights on.

    • I know, it’s unsettling. I am jumpy like a little rabbit, and when I hear voices elsewhere in the library I freeze flat against the nearest wall and wait for them to go away. :p

      Oh, God, if I had to crank something to get to my books, I think I might give up. That would be a bridge too far.