Printed Page Bookshop
November 2023

Direct from the gutter, books give up their secrets
When we read a book, thousands of microscopic particles of our DNA rub off on its pages.  The gutters -- the channel between facing pages of a book -- are full of human material:  The book accretes and stores literal traces of its readers.  Inside each book there is a minuscule, untacalogued but carefully preserved library of its human handlers.  Analyzing proteins via a mass spectrometer in a technique called proteomic analysis, researchers have discovered traces of human sweat and disease from archival book samples.  A similar applied technology was able to distinguish so-called endogamous DNA (from the animials providing the skin for the parchment) and exogamous DNA (traces of readers and other handlers) in the York Gospels, a book dating to the tenth century.  The microbiome residing on the pages reports contact with human skin, mouth, and nose microbes, again showing how the devotional encounter with this holy book has left its trace.  Swabbing the gutter of a 1637 Bible, the Folger Shakespeare Library found the DNA of a Northern European individual who suffered from acne, in a project named Operation Dustbunny.  Older books are now being examined for their potentially therapeutic supplies of DNA that predate modern medical problems such as antibiotic resistance.  These scientific techniques applied to books and archives help to recover the invisible residue of historic human contact.  Books register us in many different and vital ways, taking life from their readers.
-from Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers by Emma Smith.

This Month's Puzzler

On November 15, 1978, this woman died at age 76 in New York City. Born in
Philadelphia in 1901, she was raised in an intellectually-oriented family (her
mother was a sociologist, her father a professor of finance). After attending
DePauw University for a year, she transferred to Barnard College in 1920, where
she graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1923. That fall, she went across
the street to Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and Ruth
Benedict and earned a Ph.D. in 1929. During a 1925 field trip to Samoa, she
gathered material for her doctoral dissertation, which ultimately became her
first book, Coming of Age in Samoa (published in 1928, when she was 27).

She went on to become an enormously influential figure in American culture,
writing two dozen books and hundreds of articles. She also spoke out on such
topics as women's rights, child-rearing, sexual morality, nuclear proliferation,
race relations, and world hunger. In awarding her the Presidential Medal of
Freedom in 1979, President Jimmy Carter said:

"[She] was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn."

At an age when most of her contemporaries had slowed down or retired, she was
still going strong. In an interview on her 75th birthday, she was quoted in
Newsweek/ magazine as saying:

"Sooner or later I'm going to die, but I'm not going to retire."

Who is this person? (Answer below)

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Bring any three jacketed books on any Thursday, and one of our skilled technicians will install acetate covers on them FREE!  (No oversized books, please.)  This is a great way to keep your books from tears, soiling and shelfwear.  

Puzzler answer

Margaret Mead.  If you like our Puzzler, find more on our Facebook page.  
Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe for the use of his puzzler.  Visit him at

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