There are a number of nice things about working on my dissertation at the New York Public Library by Bryant Park. The main reason I spend the time on the subway to get there is that I manage to be much more productive there, away from the distractions of internet, housework and sitting around practicing various scales on my guitar all day. Then there are the collections relevant to my academic work—a fair number of rare books in addition to a more-or-less strong collection of secondary literature.
Moreover, I enjoy seeing what other “public scholars” are working on, from the old guy reading nineteenth-century upholstery trade journals to the Latino kids huddled around computers watching the competitive bicycling on YouTube. The world always seems more interesting when you see all the random things people take an interest in (especially compared to university libraries!).
Recently, I’ve delved into a new NYPL pleasure. Having read up on the culinary collections at the NYPL foodie/bibliophile blog, Cooked Books, I have implemented a new rewards system. For every dissertation-related book I read at the library, I treat myself to skimming through one cookbook. So after I finished Perry Anderson’s Considerations on Western Marxism, I checked out Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province by Fuchsia Dunlop. (I wasn’t impressed by either book, actually, though the anecdotes about Mao’s love for chili flakes were new to me.)
In this hunt for new bits of arcane culinary knowledge, I found two titillating distractions. First, there’s NYPL’s Buttolph collection of menus, many of which are digitized, including this treat from late-nineteenth-century Warwick, Rhode Island:
Second, there’s the menu collection at the Los Angeles Public Library, slightly more tempting to me, as I recall growing up hearing of and eating at a few exemplars in their collection. The first thing I did, predictably, was search the menus of Indian restaurants. There were some arresting images:
It’s amazing the things you can find when you are trying to avoid writing up a dissertation chapter…