Growing Up Bookish: An Anglo-American Memoir.
New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2017,
First Edition. octavo, cloth in dust jacket. (viii), 195 pp. Oak Knoll Press, Item #26260
"In my view, if you're not an optimist, you have no business running a cultural institution in the first place." - from the Preface Growing Up Bookish is a collection of autobiographical essays that stand on their own but together form a professional memoir based on the author's work as a scholar and as a library and museum director. Richard Wendorf has been an innovative institutional leader ever since he took on his first professional directorship, at Harvard, in the late 1980s. In this lively and elegantly written memoir, he charts the unpredictable and often serendipitous ways in which he moved beyond his Midwestern upbringing and made his mark first as a student, then as a scholar and teacher, and finally as the director of three prestigious - and very different - institutions: the Houghton Library, the Boston Athenaeum, and the American Museum in Britain. Much of this book is devoted to the transitions in the author's life and in his professional career: from the complacent environs of Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the 1950s and 60s to the rigors of academic life at Williams College in the Berkshires; from Williams to Oxford; from a scholarly career rooted in English literature to the work of an art historian; from his perch as a university professor to the often frustrating confines of the Harvard College Library; from university life to the directorship of the independent Boston Athenaeum; from work in the United States to a new position in England; and from the directorship of libraries to the management of an independent museum. At its heart, Wendorf's memoir is a warm and engaging look at the people and institutions that helped to shape his character and career. He includes an admiring profile of his mentor Charles Ryskamp as well as sharply etched portraits of those teachers at Williams, Oxford, and Princeton who taught him the importance of reading (and observing) carefully and writing clearly. By turns an anxious naïf and a renowned scholar and cultural arbiter, Wendorf charts his progress as an academic writer, as a collector, as an interior designer, as a fundraiser for different institutions, as a "highly skilled migrant" and subsequently a citizen of the United Kingdom - and even as a fledgling novelist. In Henry James's words, he has aspired to be a person "on whom nothing is lost." Because of the wide-ranging breadth of Wendorf's interests and experiences, this perceptive and humorous memoir should appeal to readers interested in libraries and the book world, museums and the antiques trade, portraiture, collecting, and eighteenth-century studies.