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June 30, 2006

So Many Books — by Gabriel Zaid


From this brief (144 pages), wonderful book:

The reading of books is growing arithmetically; the writing of books is growing exponentially. If our passion for writing goes unchecked, in the near future there will be more people writing books than reading them.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, our universal graphilomania produces a million titles a year, in printings of thousands of copies. Very few books are reprinted; even fewer are translated.

The freedom and happiness experienced in reading are addictive, and the strength of the tradition lies in that experience, which ultimately turns all innovations to its own ends.

The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.

Almost all books are obsolete from the moment they're written, if not before.

Why read? And why write? After reading one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand books in a lifetime, what have we read? Nothing.

Maybe all experience of infinity is an illusion, if it is not precisely an experience of finiteness. And maybe the measure of our reading should therefore be, not the number of books we've read, but the state in which they leave us.

What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.

Maybe that is what life is: We stand up and say hello and then disappear. But it is difficult to accept that idea. In our hello is a yearning for eternity.

Today it is easier to acquire treasures than it is to give them the time they deserve.

Modern productivity reduces the cost of mechanical reproduction and increases the cost of Socratic reproduction.

Confronted with the choice between having time and having things, we've chosen to have things. Today it is a luxury to read what Socrates said, not because the books are expensive, but because our time is scarce. Today intelligent conversation and contemplative leisure cost infinitely more than the accumulation of cultural treasures.

Reading is useless; it is a vice, pure pleasure.

No experts in technological forecasting are predicting the end of fire or the wheel or the alphabet, inventions that are thousands of years old but have never been surpassed, despite being the products of underdeveloped peoples. And yet there are prophets who proclaim the death of the book. As a technological judgment, it doesn't withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Books can be skimmed.... It is very difficult to get a rapid sense of a temporal sequence (even if it is visual) that must pass through a machine. In order to follow what comes out of a player piano, record player, tape player, film projector, radio, television, videocassette player, computer, telephone, or fax, you must pay close attention to the sequence of images or sounds. To search for something, it is necessary to proceed blindly, stubbornly, clumsily, without being able to see any distance ahead. It is easier to find things in books.

A book is read at a pace determined by the reader. This is a significant freedom. It is so easy to turn back, to reread, to halt, to skip things that are of no interest. With the new media, these can be cumbersome operations.

Time is by far the most expensive aspect of reading. In a wealthy economy, time is worth more than things, and it is easier to buy things than to find the time to enjoy them. Reading is a luxury of the poor.


$9.95 (new), $3.40 and up (used) at Amazon.

June 30, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Totally agree. I started writing a book once. Then I thought about it and stopped - I mean, what is the point?

Of couse, one could say that about most anything in life..

OK... starting to depress myself now...

Posted by: IB | Jul 1, 2006 3:42:42 AM

Might be interesting to read alongside The Attention Economy: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/157851441X/102-8339463-0645731?v=glance&n=283155

Posted by: Shawn Lea | Jun 30, 2006 11:50:49 PM

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