April 30th, 2007


Nicholas Basbanes writes books about books. He writes the _best_ books about books I, personally, have ever encountered. And he's a very nice man.

I'm about half way through _Every Book Its Reader: the Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World_, which is not part of the trilogy, but rather explores one of the five laws of librarianship proposed by S.R. Ranganathan, an Indian librarian: that Every Book Has Its Reader.

A bit more about the laws here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_laws_of_library_science

Being who he is, Basbanes presents a lot of his thinking on this subject through interviews with authors. He also covers some very obscure lists of "best" books and uses those to illuminate the problems inherent in such listmaking.

The real danger (at least for me) of reading Basbanes is that I never know when I'm going to feel compelled to stop reading this highly entertaining book and go off in search of some book he has introduced me to -- or reminded me of, or convinced me of the value of when I had long been in doubt -- and go Buy It/Read It Right Now. Very distracting. There's a really great section about 1776 which comes up in the course of the interview with David McCullough, who wrote a book entitled _1776_.

Speaking of which, having just watched a BookTV program about the book _1920_ and being forcibly reminded of several other books of this nature (_1787_, _1066_, _1421_, _1491_, variations on _1492_ including a movie -- I feel confident there are a lot more out there), is there a clever name for this genre, the history book about What the World Was Like In The Year Blah?

Returning to the year 1776 or at least McCullough and Basbanes discussion of it, I got hung up on Paine (I haven't read _Rights of Man_ -- seems like a lapse, doesn't it? Worse, I haven't read _Age of Reason_ or its sequel -- big lapse there), whether I should attempt to lay hands on a copy of Joseph Addison's "Cato" (which I will attempt to get through ILL I think), and, worst of all, I got suckered once again by the real problem with 1776.

Adam Smith and Edward Gibbons both put out the first volumes of their major works that year. And I haven't read either one. And let me tell you, that's just not something one takes on lightly. Obviously, I'm going to have to read Smith some day, if only to have the ultimate arsenal of response for all those irritating times that people misrepresent what he has to say. Altho, to be fair, I think I'd rather read _The Theory of Moral Sentiments_. The good news is, I don't have to buy either; they are readily available online. Unfortunately, the edition(s) I have found of Gibbons are not good. Then again, that's a heckuva commitment. OTOH, let's face it: it's the ultimate DOOM book (and I'm not talking about first person shooters).

The smartest thing I can do at this point is dogear more pages and go back to reading.

It's usually worth pursuing these things, tho. That's how I wound up visiting the local library back in 2004 to acquire, via ILL, a translation of Photius' Bibliotheca. And volunteering. And making friends. And getting inexorably sucked into town politics.

Oh, and then there's just about everything written by Elaine Pagels. There's a time sink for you.