Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I used to actually write stuff here

So, about a month ago, Tom devised this reading challenge for himself, wherein he would select and read one book from each of the categories in the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Despite the fact that I read at a pace several hundred times slower than he does, I decided to try and tag along. Of the ten books he brought home from the library for starters (he plans on getting through 100 eventually), I chose the slimmest and least intimidating one for myself - Library: an Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles. I wasn't very disciplined about getting it read in a timely manner (case in point - I took it with me to Oregon, but it never even made it out of my bag), but I finally finished it this week.

As nonfiction goes, it was a fairly compelling read. There were a couple of slow chapters, but there's a lot of interesting stuff to be learned about the history of libraries. For nearly as long as people have been collecting and storing books, they've also been burning them. To be fair, it's usually an invading and conquering force doing the burning, rather than the original collectors. Destruction of libraries, of a civilization's written word, is a pretty powerful "screw you, we're in charge here now" symbol.

The book wasn't entirely about literary conflagration, of course. There are all kinds of other (nonviolent) power struggles to be had within the library stacks. Who can have access, which books are allowed, who decides what is intellectually worth reading and what is garbage...to some extent these kinds of struggles are still ongoing, driven by the almighty dollar if nothing else.

The author strikes me as the kind of guy who likes to hear himself talk. He has a tendency to wax lyrical from time to time, sometimes not entirely coherently (he at one point refers to libraries as "the chicken coops of the muses," a metaphor that, quite frankly, I don't grasp). But the book is not a bad read overall. Certainly there are worse ways I could have started this reading challenge. ;)

Next up: The Astronomer's Universe: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmos, by Herbert Friedman. Somewhat more textbook-y, with a fair bit of physics so far - I'm through the intro - that's a bit over my head (no pun intended). But I'll manage.

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