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Tuesday, 24 October 2017


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I used to spend many Sunday afternoons in Powell's while I was going to law school (when I probably should have been studying). You had to fend off a mob of Burnside Bombers to get in there, and Powell himself was working the cash register. It's not the same now, too bright.

Powell's is a major wholesaler, selling used books to used book stores elsewhere. I've seen multiple boxes of used books from them at the Harvard Book Store.

Just wanted to mention Daniel Pennac's "Reads Like a Novel" / "The Rights of the Reader" ("Comme un roman")

These back issues are really fun to read. Why don't you put one of these classics up every weekend?

I still like books which are up there on the poundage scale, assuming that they are interesting to me. I think I really got in that habit in the early 90s when I was living in Toyama Japan and there was no Amazon, and only one sorry little book store that sold maybe 10 English language books. I grew to like books that would take me plenty of time to read. If they were good enough, I'd read them again. A 600 plus page book about MacArthur, and Hedrick Smith's "The Russians" are two I remember well as I read and enjoyed each 2-3 times.

Things changed a bit 3 years ago when I moved from a near American size apartment to a more typical Japanese sized one and had to dispose of well over a hundred books, keeping only a select few. Now most of my non-photo books are on Kindle which is a much less pleasant way to read. I tend to forget to finish many books I buy as they aren't on a table beckoning me to finish them, and reading them on a Kindle gives me a bit of Claustrophobia and is too much like staring at a computer screen.

So maybe shorter books will be my new pleasure. Or maybe not. Victor Hanson's "The Second World Wars" has so far kept my interest.

The good side of "so many books, so little time" is that you'll never run out of good things to read. This was the conclusion of a friend of mine, who is fluent in three languages and so has an even larger task.

I've really enjoyed all these blasts from the past. Regarding books about loving books, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen in the only one that I clearly remember enjoying.

I had a similar "big book" experience trying to read an absurdly large version of Thoreau's complete journals, in bed. Practically broke my ribs. Someone decided it was a good idea to take a nice, many-volume paperback (out of print) and re-issue it as an atlas-sized behemoth with four pages on each page. Never did order the second volume.

A comment about your thoughts concerning the desirability of carefully considered economy of expression, from Pascal's Lettres Provinciales XVI:

"Mes Révérends Pères, mes lettres n'avaient pas accoutumé de se suivre de si près, ni d'être si étendues. Le peu de temps que j'ai eu a été cause de l'un et de l'autre. Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte."

Very free translation:

"Reverend Fathers, I do not usually write such long or frequent letters, but the little time at my disposal is the cause of both faults, and this letter is as long as it is because I haven't had the time to make it shorter."

As a counterpoint, John Sandford's Saturn Run (sorry, I don't know how to properly bold face titles on here) was so enjoyable that I started reading his crime novels and have now read everything he has written. So I wait impatiently for each of his new books to be published, passing time with lesser writers and wishing he could turn out one a month rather than one or two a year. I'm apparently not alone in this opinion, having noted that le Carre's new novel has fewer than half the number of holds placed on it at my library than Sandford's latest.

On the other hand, I'm reading Joyce's Ulysses. And by "reading" I mean that it is on my Kindle and every few months I read a page or two. It doesn't really matter, since none of it makes any sense whatsoever. I expect to be able to say that I'm reading Ulysses for the rest of my life.

Thank you for finding time between your book reading to keep writing these posts. But, I have to tell you that one of the reasons I don't read more books, in my retirement and before, is that I spend much of my daily reading time with the modern form of well written prose in blogs like yours and Kirk Tuck's (and now it appears that you will again be consuming more weekend time too). Despite that, I still do plug away, digging through the many stacks and shelves of books now clogging the formerly empty spaces in our home. (Just finished Tim Egan's "The Worst Hard Time" about those living ... and dying ... on the 1930s dust-bowl lands. His title gets it right.)

I am very impressed that you can find time to read 60 book annually with your, like mine, bit of a dyslexic problem. Then, still, you have time to pile up as many electrons as you do for this mostly daily blog. I think 60 books should become my goal too, but that might result in less time for your blogging, as I still need time to go outside for a few photos and time for LR.

I too have loved the few visits I have made to Powell's. But Portland is far from Albuquerque, so I have to make do with visits (warning: used bookstore plug ahead) to Page One, a much smaller but near to me book cemetery, to borrow your appropriate phrase.

Ebooks have gotten me into reading big heavy books again; for a decade now I've found myself avoiding them because it was physically unpleasant to manipulate them.

I read nearly exclusively fiction, and nearly exclusively long series; I seem to be pretty much the opposite of you in this regard :-). But I don't feel the slightest urge to read all of it. Back in highschool I read most of the SF that was published, but never since, there's just too much (and SF is just one small corner).

Pleased to see more detail on the famous Pascal quote!

Dickens is great but a while back I began reading Thackeray and Trollope mainly because I got their collected works for $1 each on my Kindle. Thackeray was a great discovery. I suppose I read Vanity Fair in high school but of course it was wasted on me then. I dont think anyone today can match Thackeray for wonderful description of character. "I know she never could have been handsome; for her figure was rather of the fattest, and her mouth of the widest; she was freckled over like a partridge’s egg, and her hair was the colour of a certain vegetable which we eat with boiled beef."
From Barry Lyndon. Today the brilliant man would be arrested for a hate crime or freckle shaming or something.

I remember looking forward to the publication of Mark Twain's autobiography. Then it came out in 2010 and it was over 700 pages long, and I thought "Oh, OK, well...I can manage that". Then I discovered it was volume 1 of 3, and thought "Oh... Oh... Ummmm... Sorry Mark, I'm afraid I'm going to have to sit this one out."

Maybe it'll be my retirement project.

If I ever retire...

[I had exactly the same reaction! I'm waiting for the abridged one-volume edition.... :-) Mike]

Many years ago, when I was teaching science at high-school, I made a mistake on the board.

One of my students copied it down incorrectly.

What he actually wrote was correct - it was me that was wrong. All the other kids just blindly copied my mistake.

He was not even aware of my mistake. He just assumed that I meant to say what I should have said in the first place, and that's what he wrote.

We were beginning to recognise dyslexia as a diagnosis, and he did struggle with English. He did very well at science though, because he relied on logical context to derive the meaning of a word, rather that literal recognition. This meant he had developed a very good memory and sense of reasoning.

He overcame his spelling difficulties the hard way, rote learning the spelling of certain words by the sounds of the letters. He struggle with proof reading, but seldom made mistakes.

I seem to remember he read physics at uni.

I've gone through fiction/non-fiction (actually reference materials) phases. During my peak 'producing' years (that is, actually making stuff, as apposed to managing stuff), I thought it a waste of valuable time to read anything other than trade magazines and the famous O'Reilly "animal" technical books (my trade is embedded software development).

I've softened in my old age, and for the past several years have once again taken up reading fiction (mostly science fiction which has been a life-long passion), and find that I can enjoy it without feeling guilty about the time spent reading it.

I've also starting reading more long titles on my Kindle, as it doesn't break my nose as easily as a large book might when I doze off at night in bed. I also have bookshelves full of books, and really need to start slimming down, so collecting electronic titles that weigh nothing interests me. Eventually, on retirement, the wife and I are interested in full-time RVing. In particular, we wish to visit all the parks, in pursuit of my landscape photography. That won't leave much space for books, so I will need to be very choosy.

Many years back, I had the unpleasant experience of being angry at a thick book (Dhalgren), because I insisted on reading it to the very end, in spite of the fact that I didn't care for it. I thought that at some point it would finally resolve to something I could like, but it managed to elude me to the very end. One of the few books I recall just tossing in the trash when I was finished. It may have been the reason I swore off fiction for some period of time, come to think of it.

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