Years ago, in a country far far away, when the writer was a wee sprout, and her manuscripts no more than a vague glint in her mind’s eye, she had a Portuguese teacher. Yes, they were almost all Portuguese. But this was a teacher of what is now called Language arts, and in the US used to be called High School English, or in Portugal, Portuguese. One of those attempts to teach uncouth youths to use their mother tongue with a modicum of grace and charm.
Anyway said teacher was a Communist Party Member, though otherwise a decent human being (No, really, it’s possible. She didn’t even ding me despite my rather vocal rebellion.) In any case, she’d gotten a little heavy handed on message. So, that morning we greeted her with a full choir rendition of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
The writer, who at the time was more of a full time trouble maker might or might not have been responsible for orchestrating that. Anyway, she gave us the sinal salute and said “Oh, for heaven’s sake, sit down” and the nonsense stopped. So…
This morning I have a mild fever, and when I saw this article, The Wall started playing in my head at full volume, sang by form N8, all 32 scrubby schoolgirls, and emphasized with foot stomping.
I can’t give you that (did I mention I have a mild fever?) But I CAN give you gifs. There is a type of crazy that has to be mocked with GIFS!
And so it starts. With the title!
Way Too Many Books Are Being Published
Oh, wait, you’re serious!
I mean, by whose authority can you say too many books are being published? Or too few for that matter?
So, in awe and trembling I read on.
In the past week, I’ve seen online a number of lists bearing some title to the effect of “Best Books I Read in 2017.”
I somewhat enjoy looking at these lists, both for their recommendations, and for the windows they provide into their composers.
But I must admit that I mostly find them stressful and anxiety-inducing.
They are yet another reminder of how many great books in various genres are being written, and of how little time I have to read them.
I could swear you just said that your lack of time management ability was the world’s problem.
It can’t possibly be right. Not for someone over the age of two and not wearing a straight jacket.
I don’t think I am alone in my anxiety. John Naisbitt’s line from his 1982 book Megatrends (which I have not read)—that “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge”—has become something of an anthem for many today. The internet and social media has given us access to a dizzying amount of information, and attempting to process through it frequently afflicts us with intellectual paralysis.
You don’t think you’re alone, blah, blah, blah, some pseudo profound quote from a book you haven’t read….
Help, Help, I’m drowning in knowledge! Stop it.
Sir, monks who copied scarce manuscripts by hand to preserve the scant knowledge available laugh at you just as I laugh at you. Wisdom might or might not be achievable, but knowledge is something completely different. One does not preclude the other or for that matter include the other. This is like saying “We’re drowning in chocolate but we’re lacking in pencils.”
Contributing to our information overload is the explosion in book publishing. In the U.S. alone there are over one million new books published each year (two-thirds of them are self-published). Those are added to the pile of the over 134 million unique titles estimated to have been published since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. And apparently, even more books are on the way. According to one survey, 81% (!!!) of Americans feel that they should write a book.
As a culture, we can be somewhat proud of having this problem of too many books. It’s indicative of civilization that has enjoyed several hundred years of uninterrupted intellectual development. Plus, arguably the greater problem is not that we in America are inundated with books, but that one-third of American adults did not read a single book in the past year.
So, the people who haven’t read a book are drowning in information? And we should be proud of it but it’s a problem? And all those things about since Gutenberg? What does that have to do with the price of potatoes? In fact, do you know that 9/10s of all potato chips made since Ogg the cave man cut a potato with his flint knife and dropped it in the fire are being crunched today?
Wouldn’t the fact that one third of Americans haven’t read a book in a year mean that you didn’t publish anything that would get them to read? Wouldn’t that mean that too few books are being published today?
At the same time, however, I cannot help but feel that the exponential proliferation of books is a sign of our culture’s loss of an ultimate, shared purpose to life, and a consensus on how to achieve that purpose.
SHARED purpose to life? SHARED? You mean you don’t have an individual pursuit of happiness? You need everyone to have the same?
Devoid of this consensus, each of us is left to search for the fragments of truth (or more often than not, mindless entertainment) in our frantic, scattered regimen of reading each year.
A Regimen of READING?
That’s kind of like a regimen of chocolate!
If you feel the need for a “regimen” of each, as if you were taking medicine, well…
In an essay for First Things, Russian author Eugene Vodolazkin (who is most known for his fabulous novel Laurus, which I have read!) pronounced that the postmodern age is giving way to “the age of concentration”—one that turns “toward inner strengthening and social reconsolidation.”
And he bases this on what exactly, other than a vague nostalgia for communism or the apparent uniformity of the age of mass media. (It wasn’t uniform but really, how would you know, since the average person had no access to mass communications?) I mean, newspapers are dying and giving way to more individualized blogs. The big book publishers are in trouble and indie is flourishing, but…. this is an age of “social reconsolidation.”? Son, just because you want it, it don’t make it so.
And neither is the Russian Author who came up with that rasper.
As part of this “age of concentration,” I feel that we in America need to begin an effort to determine which books are truly essential for our citizens to read and assimilate.
You FEEL? You FEEL?
We need to identify the key texts that should act as the foundation of our shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge.
We need an intellectual harbor that can help prevent us from drowning in all the information.
The “shared cultural and interpersonal knowledge” can’t possibly be based on what actually sells. It’s not like The Martian or — groan — fifty shades of grey didn’t make it pretty quickly to the common shared reading content.
We need an intellectual harbor, established by our betters, to lead us by the nose to right thinking and proper education. Because it’s all about education, and reading is just supposed to imbue us with right thought.
And since there are too many books being published, I suspect this authority would also decide what gets to be published and what doesn’t, right?
Why is it that the more free things get, the more someone is screaming and crying, begging to go back to chains?
Just because you’re like this:
It don’t make it our problem. It would have to be a big problem indeed, to demand control over what we get to read. And you know what, I don’t see a big problem.
But you can’t because all in all you’re just another… another brick in the wall.
And we’re like: