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Bibliomania 101: The Scattershot Reader

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There must be some people out there who read books straight through, one at a time. I’m not one of them. At the moment I’ve got these books going:

  • Allen Nevins, The Ordeal of the  Union, volume 2
  • Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume 1 part 2
  • Balzac, The Ball at Sceaux 
  • Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions
  • Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit (This is my second attempt. I’m barely into it.)
  • Zechariah Sitchen, The Twelfth Planet (I hate to admit I’m reading this one, but I have an almost bottomless appetite for wacko stuff.)
  • Joseph Farrell, The Nazi International (Ditto.)
  • Daphne Hampson, Christian Contradictions

Now, I’m not saying this to brag about my intellectual ambitions or how much I read—at least not entirely. No, I mean it as a self rebuke. Of these seven, how many will languish at various stages of reading? How many will I persevere with, and how many will be pushed out by some new temporary enthusiasm? I have another, longer list of books that haven’t looked at for months, yet haven’t given up on. The trouble with this is that, if it’s fiction, I have to skim through to refresh my memory of what’s going on. If it’s demanding nonfiction, I sometimes have to start from the beginning to try and puzzle it out. There’s one book of German philosophy (no, not Hegel) that I’ve begun at least three times, only to bog down a chapter or two farther than when I last picked it up.

Every New Year’s Day I resolve to reform my reading habits, to stop acquiring books until I’m through with the bunch I’m reading now (plus the ones I got for Christmas). But long about the middle of January, some new title beckons. Oh, I tell myself I’ll just slip that in and then go back to my current list, but rarely happens; one or two or three or four titles slide into forgetfulness as I surrender to the seductions of publishers’ catalogs and internet reviews.

One of the consequences of my inconstancy is a sore point in my marriage. Mrs. C thinks we have at least twice as many books as we need, and frequently tells me that if we have to move, I’ll have to get rid of half the library. (The very thought gives me the vapors.) Lucky for our marriage (and for the apartment) that our budget is limited.


Written by hans castorp

August 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Bibliomania, Books

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I’ve always thought of myself as a semi-Luddite in the matter of reading. I don’t want to smash everyone else’s reading machines, but I certainly wouldn’t want one of my own. I’m a forty-year veteran of the publishing industry; I go back to the days when postmen and messengers trafficked galleys from editor to author to compositor, when pagnook hd+es were made up and pasted by hand. What could replace the experience of holding a new book, the new-book smell, the texture of the paper, the design, the typography, the heft of a book in the hands? Certainly not a piece of plastic.

But recently I switched iPods with my middle daughter: my Classic for her and her Touch for me. She had dropped the Touch,  leaving a spiderweb of cracks on the lower right. It was unsightly, but still operable. I had intended to use it just for listening, but on impulse I downloaded the Kindle app and a ridiculously inexpensive edition of the complete works of Henry James. reading Roderick Hudson on the absurdly small screen and trying to guess the words that hid behind the cracks.To my surprise, the text outside the cracks was quite readable, and it didn’t take me long to finish the book. The experience wasn’t the same as reading a physical book, but the words seemed to slip easily from the screen into my head. While I ‘d still rather read academic books o paper, fiction reads very well on-screen; and you can’t beat the portability.

Then her generous grandparents gave that same middle daughter a Nook HD+ for her birthday. I was consumed with envy. (Now, it’s a humiliating thing to be jealous of one’s daughter, and you should give me some credit for admitting to it.) Books aside, I’m not a particularly covetous guy, but one of the few things (books aside)


I’ve ever really wanted is an iPad. When all the vice-presidents at the company I used to work for were given them, some ostentatiously using them during during meetings, my envy was kindled. Now, the Nook is an Android tablet, not an iPad, but I thought that, all things considered, it would suit me very well. I was even more covetous when I tried reading on it, a great step up from the iPod. My mind was alive with schemes for coming up with the money, which, given our financial predicament, came down to selling more physical books. I’d sold quite a few over the last six months, though, and my supply of salable ones had diminished greatly.

By now my fever has abated somewhat, but my change of heart remains: there’s much more to be said about e-reading than I’d been able to imagine. I’m now ready to charge full-speed ahead to 2007—or 2010, if anyone wants to send me an iPad.

ADDENDUM: One of the attraction of e-books is the amount of space they don’t take up.

Written by hans castorp

August 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Technology

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