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Life Amid the Books; Union encyclopedia editor profiled in Times Union

Posted on Nov 24, 2003

Wayne Somers '61

From the Albany Times

Saturday, November 22, 2003
By Paul Grondahl,
Times Union staff writer

Amid the books, he lives and reads

Schenectady — Owner of W. Somers Bookseller makes point of getting
out-of-print books onto shelves, stacks

Habent sua fata libelli. Books have their own destinies.

The Latin phrase hangs on a blank
wall of Wayne Somers' antiquarian book- shop. It's one of the few spaces not
overflowing with teetering piles of books.

After 22 years on Union
Avenue, W. Somers Bookseller, a stuffed warren for
bibliophiles a block from Union College,
still possesses that old-book smell.

A musty, tangy and pulpy odor
hangs over the place like a vapor that imbues the 20,000 used and out-of-print
books lining shelves and stacked helter-skelter in aisles and atop tables with
the scent of erudition.

Stepping inside the
2,000-square-foot space and scanning across a choppy sea of bound words, one
spies Somers' unruly nest of gray hair poking silently out of leaning towers of
old volumes, bent over a desk, buried in an open reference book. About books, naturally.

He is a gangly fellow well over 6
feet tall, who shuffles around a maze of books with a stooped, crooked back —
an occupational hazard of lugging heavy boxes of books from attics of deceased
dowagers and estate sales hither and yon.

“It's a very pleasant way to
make very little money,” said Somers, 64, who speaks with the well-chosen
words and precise diction of a man who has spent a lifetime with his nose
between the covers of books.

He has the air of an absent-minded
professor, currents of thought from the clutch of books he reads simultaneously
swimming in his head.

“I've been in this business
for 32 years and I still get books every day I've never seen before. That is
one of my greatest pleasures,” he said.

Alas, he's a member of a dying
breed. Somers is one of three members of the Antiquarian Booksellers
Association of America in the Capital Region. The others are Lyrical Ballad in Saratoga
Springs and aGatherin' in West
Sand Lake.

Raised on Van Wie
Point along a bucolic stretch of the Hudson River in Bethlehem,
Somers attended the former Milne School
and then enrolled at Union College.
He studied humanities for four years and left in 1961 without graduating.

“I have a philosophical
objection to degrees,” he said.

He went to work at Union
College as bibliographer in the
library for the next 10 years — essentially locating and acquiring rare and
out-of-print books. The college awarded Somers an honorary master's degree of
letters in 1969.

Somers left academia and used his
expertise in becoming a bookseller.

From 1971 to 1981, he and his
wife, Jane, director of the New York State Talking Book and Braille Library in Albany,
ran a catalog used-book business out of their home near Mariaville.

In 1981, he opened the bookshop on
Union Avenue and has been
resisting the whims and passing fancies of bookselling ever since, particularly
the Internet bandwagon.

“It doesn't make sense to
have a bookshop meant for browsing and then sell the books on the Internet,”
said Somers, who prices his books to move, mostly in the $3 to $5 range for hardcovers.

Somers will always stock unusual
inventory, like a seven-volume Swiss Encyclopedia written in German and
published in 1945 ($35) or the 54-volume set of “Great Books of the
Western World” ($175).

A job perk is taking books to read
and then selling them afterward. Atop a large stack he intends to bring home is
the British historian Eric Hobsbawm's memoir,
“Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life.”

One of the only new books for sale
in the shop is his own, a shrink-wrapped leviathan of a text,
“Encyclopedia of Union College History.” Commissioned and published
by Union, Somers spent a decade scouring Union archives each morning, tending
his bookshop in the afternoon and writing at home at night.

The encyclopedia begins in 1795
and covers two centuries of Union's history. The
848-page tome includes 828 entries. It was a massive undertaking for one
person, although he received a few dozen contributions.

Somers considered it a high
compliment when a friend called the book “interesting against all
odds.” The author is proud of the fact that it's as thick as similar
encyclopedias of history for Princeton and Brown

Things are a little quieter than
usual at the shop these days, ever since the passing of Fritz and Maurice, a
pair of cats who lived amid the books.

After a pleasant, unrushed couple
of hours on a rainy November day, Somers bids a visitor adieu. He makes a
pre-emptive apology if he fails to remember the person.

“I forget faces, but I never
forget a book,” he said.

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Prof. Duncan showing works in Brooklyn gallery

Posted on Nov 21, 2003

Souzhou by Prof. Chris Duncan

Chris Duncan, associate professor
of visual arts, is displaying his sculpture at the Bruno
Marina Gallery
in Brooklyn through January 11. Gallery hours are
Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. The gallery is located at 372
Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn.
For more information, call (718) 254-0808 or visit www.brunomarinagallery.com.

Duncan, a faculty member at Union
since 1988, has exhibited his works at a number of venues around the country.
His recent show in the Mandeville Gallery at Union's
Nott Memorial drew on the connections he uses between drawing and sculpture.

“Drawing and sculpture have
always been related in my work,” Duncan
wrote in the exhibit catalog. “The drawings aren't sketches or diagrams
from which to build directly; instead they are a means to formulate and record

“When I begin a sculpture, an
underlying structure of steel allows me to generate forms quickly and
improvisationally. Sometimes the steel alone forms the finished sculpture, or I
may add plaster and found objects over the steel. In recent years, I've cast
bronzes from these plaster and steel pieces. 

“My drawing process is
similar to what happens when I make sculpture. It requires a physical
involvement, and erasing or scraping away is as important as adding. To
preserve a quality of immediacy I often work in a series. I'm interested in how
the making process helps determine the final shape of the work. Later I go
back, edit, and fine tune.”



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Dean of faculty thanks colleagues for calendar discussion

Posted on Nov 20, 2003

Christina Sorum, dean
of faculty, wrote the following to her faculty colleagues on Thursday, Nov. 20,

To all faculty:

I thank the many members of the
faculty – and the larger Union community, including our students – who worked
so hard over the past months in the discussion of our calendar.

In particular, I want to thank the
members of the Academic Affairs Council, chaired by Seyffie Maleki, who put so
much time and energy into creating the semester proposal, and the members of
the Faculty Executive Committee, chaired by Cliff Brown, who did a wonderful
job in setting parameters, advancing the discussion, and – most notably – organizing
the balloting.

While we may not agree on a
calendar, I know that we are unanimous in our desire to retain and enhance the
distinctive strengths that make Union
College a special place for our
students. We must use the momentum of our recent discussion to further advance
the academic standards of the College.

I wish you all a wonderful

Christie Sorum
Dean of Faculty

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After lengthy campus-wide discussion, faculty vote to keep trimesters

Posted on Nov 19, 2003

The Union College faculty has voted 124 to 99 to retain the trimester calendar, it was announced Wednesday by
Clifford Brown, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee.

The margin was 53 to 42 percent; there were 11 abstentions (5 percent), Brown said.

The vote followed an extensive, campus-wide discussion of the merits of both calendar systems — trimester and the proposed semester — with input from students, faculty and staff. Proponents of both systems were clear that the College preserve its greatest strengths — small class size, close student-faculty interaction, and the flexibility to pursue trademark programs such as terms abroad and undergraduate research.

Turnout was 96 percent (234 of 243 eligible voters), and nine faculty members did not cast ballots, Brown added.

The six members of the FEC met to count the ballots late in the day on Wednesday, Nov. 19, in the Joseph Board
Room of the political science department.

Faculty voted over the past week on the final proposal, which called for two
14-week semesters, each with a four-day reading period.

“The FEC thanks everyone who participated in this process for your help and your participation,” Brown said in a joint email with Linda Stanhope, secretary of the FEC.

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Posted on Nov 14, 2003

Through Dec. 7
The Mandeville Gallery in Nott Memorial
“Girl Printers: Talented Women Strut Their Stuff!”: A showcase featuring
printing, books, and ephemera by 37 girl printers.

Through December
Arts Atrium, Arts Bldg.
Sculpture Exhibition

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