The Overwhelming Library
Forgive the vague title of this post. I am in a bit of a bind. As I've mentioned before, I have a lot of books. They are a great source of pride and amusement to me, and I dare attribute my successes in scholarship to them. The largest sections in my personal library are devoted to film and art, but that is not to say that I don't have many volumes of literature, science fiction, or drama. I'm feeling critical mass. I'm spreading myself too thin.
I talked to a friend today about what I was reading. When I stepped back and listed all the books, I was shocked. Why am I reading so many books at once? Surely the best way to tackle a particularly good book is to show it the respect and attention that you yourself would want - singular affection, recognition, and time. While I am perfectly capable of respectfully devouring a single book, and have done so recently, I feel that I've entered a phase of unbridled curiosity, and with it have encountered the central problem for bibliophiles in our day and age. Even with publishers dying left and right, once proud titles gracelessly falling out of print, and on, there are more books available now than at any other point in human history. For readers in the English language, this not only means an entire world of books from before the era of the mass market paperback, but also the fruits of the solidification of the blockbuster publishers, the specializations of academic markets, and the extreme niches provided by independent publishers. Books can now be printed on demand in varying quantities: soon, libraries and book stores will have equipment from which a patron can merely select a title from a very, very, very large list, pay, and wait as their book is PRINTED and BOUND before their eyes. The internet has already dispensed with the physical form of the book and extracted its guts in the form of eBooks. These range from specialty files readable on tablet pseudo-book screens down to the large, in open-ended text files provided by Project Gutenberg. SO MANY OPTIONS.
Is this a lament? A call to arms? Neither, I think. Walter Benjamin told us of the disappearance of the "aura" of the art object in the age of mass reproducibility. Fredric Jameson tells us of the rise of consumer goods as simultaneous with the disappearance of personal style, as such. We've got the vestiges of the old and the quirks of the new at our finger tips. I'll probably continue to read 5 or 6 books at once as long as I have a love affair with the book, though I can see myself spread ever-thin as the opportunities increase throughout my lifetime.