The following “praise” of the East Asian Library’s reading room appeared in an essay entitled “In Praise of Corn Dogs*,” a piece a recent Washington University graduate Caleb DeLorme (Class of 2016 – Comparative Literature) wrote as a creative project for a class.
“There are plenty of rooms at Wash U that look gothic, but the East Asian Library is the only one that smells gothic. Its wooden accoutrements are burnished with the patina so beloved of Tanizaki, and the true jewel among them is the small flight of stairs that leads to the study rooms. The compact staircase brings to mind the steps leading to the raised pulpit of a Catholic cathedral. More importantly, they are the only stairs on campus that creak properly. Most of our stairs clack when ascended, but a gothic staircase should creak. Anyone fortunate enough to spend time in this library will not be surprised to find that it is also the only room on campus that is lighted as it should be. Candelabras are chained to the ceiling, yielding a mild illumination that does not compete with the pale glow of the large windows. These fixtures are equipped with electric candles rather than their wax equivalents (the ideal) but they are endlessly superior to the fluorescent floodlights that provide most of the filling for the twinkie of Washington University. The East Asian Library is the most authentically European room we have.”
* The title is a parody of “In Praise of Shadows” (陰翳礼讃/In’ei Raisan), a meditative essay on Japanese aesthetics by author Tanizaki Jun’ichiro.
January Hall, in which the East Asian Library is housed, was built in 1922 and dedicated in 1923. Originally, Washington University School of Law called the building home, and what is now the reading room to the East Asian Library was the main reading room for the Law Library. The East Asian Library moved in in 1972, after the space was vacated by the law school. Now our reading room is one of the most popular study destination for the members of the Washington University community. The room has 100+ seats, all of which are designated “quiet study” area.
Rows of fluorescent lights were once installed above the reading room alongside the “candelabra,” but the fixture was restored (more or less) to original in the 1990s, according to Tony Chang, East Asian Librarian. We may be repairing the short wooden staircase to the group study room soon (we feel it squeaks a little too much), but we hope to preserve enough creak to preserve its true gothic appeal.
Thank you, Caleb, for sharing the essay with us, and agreeing for us to share it on a blog post!