Friday, April 22, 2016

Exploring a funny idea

Two different friends, both born in other countries, said the same thing to me yesterday: "I shouldn't get any more books because I have books that I haven't read."  What a funny idea!  I imagine that everyone has some books in the house that they haven't read.  

It can be a little difficult to decide when to add a book to one's library, whether it is a paper book or an electronic book.  We all do understand that books are to be read and if you aren't going to read them, why have them around?  Part of the deal is what we mean by "reading".  

We could say that ONLY the books we haven't read should be in our collection, our library, our archives, our cloud.  In that case, when someone says they don't want a book, we could assume that they have read it.  But what is "reading a book'? Sometimes, the author of the book is in his office nearby.  Take his book to him and ask if he has read it.  Sometimes, the author will honestly say he hasn't read it.  He did write it but that process proceeds in fits and starts.  But, no, he hasn't actually read the book through as he has many other books.

Other authors will say,"Read it?  I wrote it!"  In that case, I like to open the book at random, read a sentence to the author and ask him to tell me what the next sentence is.  Usually, he won't know.  You can imagine him spitting and sputtering about the silliness of my approach.  

I have had students read me a line from something I wrote and protest that I just contradicted the line in what I said aloud.  Then, I have to admit that I used to believe and accept what I wrote but have changed my mind or new information has emerged or the situation has changed.

We do have those books that aren't in our possession to be read through.  We haven't read the dictionary, the phone book (what's a phone book?), many reference books.  We keep them handy to dip into them with needed.  We haven't read them, we don't intend to ever read them but we want to keep them handy.

It may be helpful to compare books with friends and relatives.  We don't normally say that we don't need to talk to cousin Hank because we have already met him and we talked to him once already.  We realize Hank is ever-new as are we ourselves.  So, re-reading the Pickwick papers or Anthony Trollope can be a renewed pleasure, quite like the pleasure of watching a favorite movie over again.  

Then, there is the future, always a human consideration.  The price of "Farmacology" by Daphne Miller is $1.99 today.  It will be more in a day.  I never heard of the book but the excellent come-on language makes me think I will get to the book (code for giving it a try, dipping into it here and there, looking at the table of contents and the index, etc.) sometime or other.  Sounds like a good buy and so I get it. Don't worry, I will get to it in the nursing home.

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