“So many books, so little time.” In the unlovely shorthand parlance of our time, that t-shirt coffee mug credo stands in for a way to express the despair I feel when I think about all the books I want to read, plus the ones I’ll want to read that haven’t been published or written yet, plus the years remaining to me (20-25 years if I’m lucky, 30-35 years if I’m extraordinarily lucky, and 10 years if I die at the age my mother did — I’m two years past the age my father was when he died).
I’m not vain or self-centered enough to believe I’m the only voracious reader who feels this way, but my heart still lurched when I saw this lead-in (at Arts & Letters Daily) to an article in the Books section of the (UK) Guardian:
Our future is measured by the books we intend to read. Kierkegaard understood the anxiety. As more becomes possible, he said, less becomes actual…
Clicking through to the article, here is the first paragraph:
There was a time when a learned fellow (literally, a Renaissance man) could read all the major extant works published in the western world. Information overload soon put paid to that. Since there is “no end” to “making many books” – as the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes prophesied, anticipating our digital age – the realm of the unread has spread like a spilt bottle of correction fluid. The librarian in Robert Musil‘s The Man Without Qualities only scans titles and tables of contents: his library symbolises the impossibility of reading everything today. The proliferation of lists of novels that you must, allegedly, have perused in your lifetime, reflects this problem while compounding it. On a recent visit to a high street bookshop, I ogled a well-stacked display table devoted to “great” novels “you always meant to read”. We measure out our lives with unread books, as well as coffee spoons.
There’s much more; read the whole thing here.
Stephen Greenblatt reflects on the recent DNA identification of a skeleton unearthed in Leicester, UK, as those of Richard III, and the “relationship between the shape of a spine and the shape of a life.”
A few more items: an interview with Jamaica Kincaid in Mother Jones; another New Yorker piece, this one about the dark side of Robert Frost; and a sweet and haunting essay about a night spent with Allen Ginsberg — after he died.
Round 6,781 in the physical versus electronic books debate:
Amid the seemingly endless debates today about the future of reading, there remains one salient, yet often overlooked fact: Reading isn’t only a matter of our brains; it’s something that we do with our bodies. Reading is an integral part of our lived experience, our sense of being in the world, even if at times this can mean feeling intensely apart from it. How we hold our reading materials, how we look at them, navigate them, take notes on them, share them, play with them, even where we read them—these are the categories that have mattered most to us as readers throughout the long and varied history of reading. They will no doubt continue to do so into the future.
In other words, e-books are not books.
I have a post up on the above-titled subject at The Agonist.
Google tried to do it and got into hot water with copyright issues. Now the Digital Public Library of America — a group associated with Harvard University — is giving it another go, but they’re colliding with many of the same problems. One point of special interest: Did you know that it was H.G. Wells who first broached the idea of using technology to make all the world’s knowledge available to everyone on the planet?
Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is almost 850 pages, and not one page wasted. If there’s such a thing as the perfect book, this is it. Brilliant premise for a novel — a man discovers a portal to September 9, 1958, and he uses it to go back in time and try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The obvious complication — that changing the past changes the future — only hints at the unforeseen and unwanted consequences of what the book’s central character, Jake Epping, intends for the good.
Mark Athitakis has a writeup of a question-and-answer session he took part in at a recent conference for book reviewers. It makes for very interesting reading — because as much as I dread and agonize over writing book reviews myself, I love to read them. To me, book reviews are a writing genre unto themselves, and well-written ones give me the same pleasure I get from reading a beautifully constructed essay. Also, Athitakis has a decidedly broad-minded, welcoming attitude toward the many changes we’ve seen over the last decade or so in the world of book reviews (e.g., who writes them, what venues they appear in), and I like that.