Without consciously realizing that it was in the book of literary landmarks that I’m pursuing, I found myself at Columbia University on Sunday. I had been perusing an independent bookstore, Book Culture, primarily because I saw an interesting-looking fellow with a tote bag sporting the store’s logo. Far be it from me to miss the chance to find a great bookstore. As it turns out, the store had a great selection of books, including some great literary criticism that I forced myself not to buy. Well, of course it did: it’s a bookstore that carries coursebooks from nearby Columbia. That explained why the bookstore carried the interesting aroma of new and used books mixed with a balance of affectation and inspiration.
Since I was there, so close, I had to explore Columbia in all its Ivy League glory. I’ll never be intelligent enough (not to mention wealthy enough) to traverse its halls as a legitimate student, but that day, I was content just to walk the grounds, to soak in the intellectual history and incredible ideas espoused in its buildings and libraries. And I had fun imagining myself as a student there, if only for a brief moment.
According to my trusty literary landmark guide, Bill Morgan, Columbia “is one of the oldest, largest, and richest colleges in the country.” Well, I knew that already. What I didn’t know was how incredible its Butler Library is, especially its rare book rooms that hold early editions of Aristotle and Euclid, Milton and Washington Irving, as well as manuscripts of “Annabel Lee,” A Streetcar Named Desire, and “Howl.” Speaking of, it was at Columbia that the Beats were born, including its students Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (and Ginsberg’s famous publisher Ferlinghetti). Other notable literary students: Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, J. D. Salinger, and more. And that’s not even mentioning the insane quality of professors who have taught there…Sometimes, academia is cool, kids. (Actually, a girl just sat next to me in the coffee shop who is getting her Ph.D., and she’s explaining how she’s researching the material culture of fashion in the 70s in hopes of being both in academia and a museum curator. Cool.)
|Butler Library. (A wee bit crooked.)|