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Anthony Daniels on Reading

Anthony Daniels has published an essay in the New Criterion titled Loss & Gain: On the Fate of the Book.  It is a long wide-ranging essay that discusses books, libraries, digital technologies, and the consequences of the emergence of these digital technologies.  In the course of the essay Daniels self-identifies as a bibliophile, the kind of person who “…when I got into someone’s house, I find myself drawn to the bookshelves.” He further self identifies by drawing distinctions between different manifestations of bibliomania:

I am not a bibliophile in the true sense, that is to say someone who finds excitement in a misprint on page 278 which proves that the book, which he might or might not ever read, is a true first edition. Nor am I a bibliomaniac in the true sense, the kind of person who will eventually be found lying dead under a pile of books that he has incontinently or indiscriminately collected because of some psychological compulsion to accumulate. No, I am something in between the two (as a physician put it when I was a student, as he tried to explain to a patient that he had myeloma, which was neither cancer nor leukaemia, “but something in between the two.”) I prefer a good edition, physically as well as literarily speaking, to a bad one; I buy more books than I read, though always with the intention of reading them; I am not an aficionado of rarity for rarity’s sake, though I have some rare things, upon which the eye of the avaricious bookseller called in by my relict will immediately alight as he offers her yardage, $5 a yard of books.

I wonder whether this kind of happy madness will survive the palm-pilot to blackberry to iphone transition that so preoccupies people.  I know quite a number of people who take great pride and garner really enjoyment from the digital devices they own, but it is an enjoyment as transitory as it is real.  These folks happily throw off one networked information technology for another, and give the obsolete (or the poorly marketed) object nary a thought once it is gone.  Personal libraries are of course autobiographies, when Daniels leaves the dinner guest to look at books he’s really making an appraisal of his hosts, he is coming to an understanding of the people he is with. Like Daniels, I have books at home I have not consulted in years, but would not think of getting rid of them–they are the time and place of their reading.  This particular acquisitiveness is a kind of memory, a kind of modest human-made modeling of remembering.  However much reading can and will be kindled by e-books, the ebbing of actual books maybe an abdication of purposefully remembering, of purposefully keeping.

~ by pdoty on .

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