Posted in Books, Chained Libraries

Malatestiana Chained Library – Cesena, Italy

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
― Mark Twain 

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Malatestiana Library center aisle with rosette windows. Photo courtesy of  Ivano Giovannini 

 

The Malatestiana Library, known as the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Italian, was the first European civic library open to the public, and still open today.  This means it belonged to the Commune, and not the Church. Built in 1447, it is the oldest library in Europe.

Malatestiana Library is what is known as  a humanistic-conventual library.  This means that they have preserved its structure, furnishings, and codices (manuscripts of hand-written books) since its opening in the mid-15th century, all of this despite wars and natural disasters. This became a model and inspiration for monastic libraries.

The reading room itself, known as the Aula del Nuti, after its architect Matteo Nuti. He designed the rectangular plan with three naves surmounted by barrel and groin vaults is still accessed through the original wooden doors, which need two separate keys to open. Wandering Italy blog, explains, “Originally, one key belonged to the abbot, the other by a representative of the city; the sacred and the profane.”

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Original wooden doors opening. Photo courtesy of Italian Ways

According to Italian Ways, “with its 17,000 autographs and letters, and 250,000 volumes – including 287 incunables, about 4,000 books from the 1500s (‘cinquecentine’), 1,753 manuscripts from the 16th and 19th century, and even the smallest book in the world that can be read without a magnifying glass: a letter by Galileo Galilei to Christina of Lorreine, printed in 1897 and bound in just 15 x 9 mm.”

In 2005, it was recognized as the first UNESCO Memory of the World site in Italy. It is a “rare example of a complete and wonderful collection from the 15th century, just before printing became popular in Europe.”

If you want to see what books and manuscripts are in the Biblioteca Malatestiana, and can’t travel to Italy (on my bucket list!) check out the Open Catalogue of the Malatestiana Project, which has lots of manuscript images under the “Collection” link.

Biblioteca Malatestiana Antica
Piazza Maurizio Bufalini, 1, 47521 Cesena FC, Italia
Info and Hours

Note:
Featured image courtesy of Jerome Levine for The Boston Globe.

For Further Reading:All the UNESCO registered Memory of the World sites

Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Literary Arts Series, Monday Musings, Quote, Writing

Mark Twain on Writing: “Kill your adjectives”

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Mark Twain, who read widely, was passionately interested in the problems of style; the mark of the strictest literary sensibility is everywhere to be found in the prose of Huckleberry Finn . . . He is the master of the style that escapes the fixity of the printed page, that sounds in our ears with the immediacy of the heard voice, the very voice of unpretentious truth.

Lionel Trilling, “Mark Twain’s Colloquial Prose Style”, from The Liberal Imagination, 1950

Mark Twain

Twain was often asked for advice on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes he responded seriously, sometimes not.  Here’s a piece of writing advice on from a letter he wrote on 20 March 1880 to a student named D.W. Bowser:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

I often tell my editing clients one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. Twain famously said:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 


Bonus: “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamps” information for you philatelists! 

Mark Twain 44¢
(1835-1910)
Mark Twain
Issue Date: June 25, 2011
City: Hannibal, MO
Quantity: 50,000,000

Mark Twain is the 27th honoree in the Literary Arts series. “Our literary tribute this year rightfully honors Mark Twain, author of one of the greatest novels in American literature and the man whom William Faulkner called ‘the first truly American writer,’ said Postal Service Board of Governors member James H. Bilbray. “Mark Twain was a rarity, as he was one of the first writers to exploit the vernacular voice in his books, using the speech of common Americans,” Bilbray said.

Samuel Clemens’ family moved to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River when he was just a child.  Clemens developed a love for the river that would stay with him his entire life.

As a young man, Clemens met a steamboat pilot named Horace Bixby.  That’s when he decided to learn the craft, becoming one of the best pilots on the river.

As an author, Clemens took his pen name from his experiences on the water.  The Mississippi River is difficult to navigate.  To “mark twain” meant the water had been measured and was a safe depth.  In 1863, Clemens began writing as Mark Twain.

If it had not been for the Civil War, Twain may have remained a pilot who occasionally wrote newspaper articles.  But most business travel stopped along the Mississippi during these years, so Twain went back to writing.  His humorous stories of life on the river were a hit with readers then and remain popular today.

In 2010, the first volume of Twain’s autobiography was published.  It was his wish that it not be released until 100 years after his death so that he might speak his “whole frank mind.”  The volume offers a glimpse into the real Samuel Clemens – a man with strong political and social views who nevertheless entertained millions with riveting tales of life on the Mississippi.

More on the “Give A Lick: Literary Postage Stamp” Series

Dorothy Parker and John Steinbeck
Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison
James Thurber and Ogden Nash
Bonus: James Thurber Cartoon