Read So Many Books

Read So Many Books

Join the conversation! In So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid offers his observations on the literary condition: a highly original analysis of the predicament that readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers find themselves in today—when there are simply more books than any of us can contemplate.

Generally interesting, two or three essays that felt outdated. He has a refreshing non-preciousness about books while also clearly loving them.

Diversity and uniqueness of reading

The uniqueness of each reader, reflected in the particular nature of his personal library (his intellectual genome), flourishes in diversity.

I like the idea of an intellectual genome, and the phenome is your thoughts from your reading.

There are more books to contemplate than stars in a night on the high seas. In this immensity, how is a reader to find his personal constellation, those books that will put his life in communication with the universe?

His second essay, “Complaining about Babel,” celebrates the long tail viability of publishing: that we have such diversity of books because it’s financially viable to publish a book only a few thousand people (or a few hundred even) will read.

In many areas, progress destroys diversity. Not so with books.

This is why I dgaf about literary books:

What does it matter how cultivated and up-to-date we are, or how many thousands of books we’ve read? 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 means anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.

I think literary works tend to glorify the banal and tragic, revel in obfuscation, and reject story in an attempt at uniqueness. I think highfalutin culture overlooks the emotional and transformative power of story that genre fiction understands.


Modern culture was born with the printing revolution. Rejecting traditional mediation, it thrives on independent revelation: the reading of the thing itself revealing its meaning to the reader.

Independent, individualistic thought and learning; a departure from oral culture that relies on person to person transference of information — and from apprenticeships and guild control of knowledge by enabling people to learn to do things themselves?

Boredom is the negation of culture. Culture is conversation, liveliness, inspiration.

I’m not sure about this one but want to think about it more 🤔 I think boredom is disengagement… which could fit this?

[C]ulture is a conversation without a center. The true universal culture isn’t the utopian Global Village, gathered around a microphone; it is the Babel-like multitude of villages, each the center of the world. The universality accessible to us is the finite, limited, concrete universality of diverse and disparate conversations.

Culture is not constrained to the non-commercial, and the commercial isn’t inherently uncultured. (Genre fiction here folks.)

[I]t is said…that [indigenous] cultures are as valid as our own, the separation is maintained by the fact that they are”other”; when they stop being “other,” they are “commercialized.” Culture is the otherness possessed by “cultured” people and by indigenous groups still on the margins of the cultural metropolis.

This reflects the way we often treat other cultures when we travel (and I have been guilty of this), wanting “authenticity” and dismissing modern people adapting new technologies or making money off of traditional cultural practices as inauthentic.

All commerce is conversation: in other words, it is culture…in the end nothing is just a commodity.

I’m not sure I was convinced by this but it is provacative.

What is the book’s place?

A critique of books:

Books represent the harvest, not the creative process.

And a rebuttal:

The inertness of the printed word is not a failing of print but a failing of life.

Books as a medium put the power of the learning experience in the user’s hands moreso than audio and video:

A book is read at a pace determined by the reader. With the new media, a reader has to adapt to a pace set by a machine.

Books are their own hardware.

From that perspective, is an e-book a book? How many features can you add to an e-book before it becomes its own thing beyond a book? Or does it forever remain a book in essentials?

Time is by far the most expensive aspect of reading… Reading is a luxury of the poor, the sick, prisoners, retirees, students.

In a world where time is money and busyness a badge of honor… 🤔

A connection here to the devaluation of reading fiction; if there is no actionable information or clear takeaway, it’s seemingly not worth finding the time to read. Pondering and processing take time when the mind is unoccupied, and we undervalue the rest that would give us that time and mental space. We treat pleasure as self indulgence rather than the substance of life.

(Not a subtweet, I also consume more content than I spend time digesting. But I do like the idea of giving capitalism the finger by enjoying myself reading.)

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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