The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Too Many Books

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At the NYRB Blog, Tim Parks wonders if there are just too many books:

Is there a relationship between the quantity of books available to us, the ease with which they can be written and published, and our reading experience?

At present, for example, it’s hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction. Just when we were already overwhelmed with paper books, often setting them aside after only a few pages in anxious search of something more satisfying, along came the Internet and the e-book so that, wonderfully, we now have access to hundreds of thousands of contemporary novels and poems from this very space into which I am writing.

Inevitably, this tends to diminish the seriousness with which I approach any particular book. Certainly the notion that these works could ever be arranged in any satisfactory order, or that any credible canon will ever emerge, is gone forever.

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One Comment

  1. I’m reminded of Joseph Mitchell writing about Joe Gould and his Oral History:

    Suppose he had written the Oral History, I reflected: it probably wouldn’t have been the great book he had gone up and down the highways and byways prophesying it would be at all—great books, even halfway great books, even good books, even halfway good books, being so exceedingly rare . . . Anyway, I decided, if there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books, the Niagara of books, the rushing rivers of books, the oceans of books, the tons and truckloads and trainloads of books that were pouring off the presses of the world at that very moment, only a very few of which would be worth picking up and looking at, let alone reading. I began to feel that it was admirable that he hadn’t written it. One less book to clutter up the world, one less book to take up space and catch dust and go unread from bookstores to homes to second-hand bookstores and junk stores and thrift shops to still other homes to still other second-hand bookstores and junk stores and thrift shops to still other homes ad infinitum.

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