I find Jacques Paul Marton, Davis Center custodian, on his lunch break in the wide-open space of the building’s atrium. It’s a bustling campus crossroad lined with tables offering bake sales and plant sales; music plays as salsa dance club members show off their moves to recruit new students from the ranks walking past. Though JP, as he’s known to most, has a prime comfy chair and people-watching spot, he’s someplace entirely different—in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, imagination immersed in a second-hand copy of Leo Tolstoy’s The Cossacks.
Marton, a sturdy guy wearing clear sport-shield glasses, is a lover of reading. More specifically, he’s a lover of books, the printed word. Better yet, a well-worn book with a few miles on it. But he doesn’t mind being interrupted from his Tolstoy. He’s thrilled, actually, to leave comrades Lukasha and Olenin, even the enchanting peasant girl Marishka, behind and jump up out of his chair to talk about another of his book-related passions—sharing them.
Marton, who joined the Davis Center staff in 2007, is the man behind “The Book Nook,” a quiet corner of Brennan’s Pub on the DC’s first floor. About three years ago a small set of shelves appeared near the pub’s stage. Seeing them empty day after day, Marton took it upon himself to start filling the lonely shelves up with books from his own home library. A lifelong reader, his interests trace through his own academic pursuits in sociology at The New School for Social Research decades ago. He vividly recalls walking into the used bookstores on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan—“it was like looking for treasure.”
The Book Nook concept is simple—leave a book or take one, no charge, no checkout, no due date, no need to even return it. For the most part, Marton has stocked the shelves with his books from home, Bailey/Howe Library giveaways, and the odd books that one invariably finds around college campuses as semesters end or faculty office libraries are thinned. Marton has posted a passage from Herman Melville’s White Jacket on top of one of the shelves: “…the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much.”
Standing in Brennan’s, JP Marton tells me about the volumes of Shakespeare he salvaged from the recycling bin. As he shows off the current Book Nook collection, there’s hardly a title or author that doesn’t grab his attention: Tolkien, W.B Yeats (“one of my favorites!”), Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Joyce Carol Oates (“her books fly off the shelf”), Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, Yukio Mishima. He shows me a slim, red volume, a Bailey/Howe discard, the cover is worn to illegibility, but Marton has re-written the title and author in Sharpie: “The Educational Situation” by John Dewey.
Having that book by a UVM alumnus, arguably the most notable mind the university has produced, in the Nook means a lot to Marton. He says his library project is inspired by and all about students, faculty, staff, and alumni. As The Book Nook evolves, he’d love to see all of the above—particularly faculty and alumni—donate a book that has influenced them, or one they’ve written themselves, to the Book Nook, preferably inscribed with a note about what the book meant to them.
As we talk, Marton holds out a paperback collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems and waits for me to take it. “It’s all about this here,” he says, “to the younger generations on and on and on, passing knowledge not just monitor to monitor, but hand to hand.”
Books can be donated directly to the drop-off box at The Book Nook or mailed to The Book Nook, C/O Student Life, Dudley H. Davis Center, 310, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405