Books for the Reading

Summer – after several weather-waffling weeks of confused warm, cool, rain, hazy, clouds, and clear – is here. The sun blazes mercilessly; the air is dry and warm; the wind blows. No clouds mar the clear azure of the sky. However, for the moment, the earlier mornings remain cool and quite comfortable. The rain will return in autumn.

The summer season is an opportunity to visit museums. There is a local museum, close to hand, with old cattle trail information and exquisite rotating or visiting paintings. This museum is always an exciting treat.

The Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections by Jan Mark and illustrated by Richard Holland is a delightful overview of museum history, purpose, and types; there are also a few museums of special note. Each page is filled with informative text and whimsical, busy illustrations.

The author’s narrative is simple and to the point. The word museum is derived from the word muse; the nine Muses were early Greek deities representing the arts. Education, not collection was the purpose of the first museum founded in ancient Alexandria. (Additional research placed the birth of the Musaeum at Alexandria, Egypt around 300 BCE. The Library at Alexandria was considered part of this museum. The library and museum may or may not have perished separately, but by 642 AD under the best case scenario, neither remained.)

In 1677, approximately 2,000 years from the first museum’s birth, a collection was donated to Oxford University of Oxford, United Kingdom with the stipulation that the collection was to be housed separately. The resulting museum, the Ashmolean Museum, was the first museum in the modern sense – a collection of artifacts. It is, according to the book, the oldest existing museum.

Richard Holland’s wonderful accompanying and rather dizzy illustrations in collage form add much in the way of visual information. Dinosaurs, coats of armor, ancient and modern structures, a dodo or rather what we think may be a dodo based on a few remaining dodo fragments, an Egyptian sarcophagus, a train locomotive, earthenware vessels, and much more adorn the pages. Every page is a visual delight.

This summer during the hot, hotter, hottest holidays, visit a museum. In the meantime, learn how museums came to be and why they are special. Soon, I will visit a local museum armed with newly found knowledge regarding these institutions. It’s a great start to the summer season.

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