Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kalamazoo, Part 1: Books

Imagine, if you will, that you have a love of, say, chocolate.  Let's say that it's your passion.  Not only do you enjoy eating it, but you enjoy discovering new varieties, creating new recipes and researching its chemistry and history.  Now, suppose that no one you know in your daily life gives a flying frak about chocolate; they nod dismissively when you begin to declaim about its smooth texture and silky sweetness, and sooner rather than later, they start checking the time and edging away.  Oh, you have an on-line community of chocolate connoisseurs with whom to exchange ideas, and every once in a while you can inspire a young person to discover the joys of chocolate, but most of the time, you're all alone in your passion, abandoned in a world blind and deaf to true beauty.

Except for one weekend of the year.  On that weekend, you are surrounded by others who share your passion, who revel in it, debate it, promote it, who really understand what it means to love chocolate.  For medievalists, that's Kalamazoo.

The 47th International Congress of Medieval Studies, which 4000 medievalists attend annually on the campus of Western Michigan University, is about to wrap up.  We have, as a group, listened to some truly insightful, occasionally brilliant, papers; participated in round-tables, made plans for further research and publication, and complained about the boxed wine.  Most of all, we've shared our passion for all things medieval.

And then there are the books.

At Kalamazoo, an entire cafeteria is transformed for one weekend into a giant exhibit of books about the middle ages (with a few random volumes about the ancient or renaissance eras).  Publishers from around the world bring their latest offerings, and...and this is the amazing part...some used bookstores show up as well.  With discounted books.  Steeply discounted books.  All of which are about medieval studies.  Thousands of books, as far as the eye can see, all about the middle ages!

There are more books than bookshelves, and some of us crawl on the floor, searching for that rare and desired volume of lore.  And do you think these are boring books?  Nay, for we are medievalists!

We read about everything in the middle ages, even cooking with animal testicles.  Moreover, we write about these matters, as well.

Here is my friend Kat Tracy from Longwood University, with her book on Torture and Brutality in the middle ages.  No, she is not a criminal with a creepy obsession!  She is a scholar!

(The difference, in case you're wondering, is that we are poorer and less likely to do prison time.)

Look how happy buying these books makes a medievalist!  My friend Bob Yeager is ready to burst his tweed jacket with joy:

But woe! woe, I tell you, unto those who try to part us from our books!

The booksellers are our dear friends, feeding our passions at a reasonable discount.  Here is Tom, of Scholar's Choice books, one of my very favorite stores:

And here are the jelly beans that Scholar's Choice brings every single year!

What more could a hungry medievalist ask for?  Books and free jelly beans!  It's frakkin' beautiful, people, beautiful.

Of course, there are a few non-book items available for purchase as well:

Books!  Music!  Weapons!  Add to that digitalized manuscripts and audio recordings and well, it's a wonder that we don't all die of an overdose of delight before we get our first glass of that boxed chablis.


  1. Ok, for the past several years I haven't been able to go to Kalamzoo, and I thought I didn't miss it. Now I do.

  2. Loved this Natalie. You captured it beautifully. Hope to meet you next year at Kalamazoo, in amongst the books, no doubt!

  3. Thanks, I look forward to meeting you too!

  4. Joanne RochesterMay 16, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Sigh. As a Renaissance Drama person, I've always meant to go to the 'Zoo, and I never have. But this -- this makes me regret my decision.