Q: Where is your favorite library? What’s special about it?
A: As a student, I spent much time in the town library in Troyes, southeast of Paris. At the French Revolution, the local municipality was given all the marvellous manuscripts from the closure of the nearby monasteries, especially Clairvaux, founded by Saint Bernard in 1115. In those days (it has been rebuilt now), one sat at tables among children doing their homework or sleepy old men reading the papers, turning pages of some of the most breathtaking Carolingian and Romanesque manuscripts in existence. There were signs as you entered the library: an arrow pointing left said “Bibliothèque” and pointing right said “Discothèque”.
Q: Do you remember the first book you ever checked out at a library?
A: I remember the first medieval manuscript I ever checked out of a library. The Dunedin Public Library in New Zealand, which we joined on the very first day after moving to Dunedin in 1963, had specimen leaves of illuminated manuscripts hanging in frames on the library stairs. In about 1964, when I was 13, I asked if these could be borrowed too, and they agreed. I brought one home on the school bus, to the astonishment of my parents. I attach a picture of it here:
Q: Do you have a favorite library memory? Either from doing research for The Manuscripts Club, or just browsing the shelves?
A: I worked for 15 years as the librarian of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. The oldest manuscript there (one of the oldest extant) is the sixth-century Gospel Book of Saint Augustine, who introduced Christianity to England in 597. In 2010 we were asked to take it to Westminster Abbey for the state visit of Benedict XVI. I held the book while the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury bowed down in front of me to venerate it. Here is the scene:
Q: What’s one takeaway you hope readers will learn from The Manuscripts Club?
A: That medieval manuscripts are the most fascinating, beautiful, intriguing, beguiling, lovely, bewitching, intoxicating, seductive, exciting, alluring, appealing, irresistible, exquisite, magnificent, delightful, gorgeous and most truly compelling objects in existence.