Sunday, March 23, 2014


Excessively literate book obsessives are an exceptionally narcissistic tribe; how else to explain the incredible amount of available books that happen to be themselves dissertations about books, or that concern the pleasures of reading, or are instead navel-gazing studies into the mind of the reader whilst reading? I’m certainly not immune, and Gabriel Zaid’s short treatise on books isn’t the first such missive I’ve spent money on in order to justify or deepen my attachment to reading and/or console myself as such. 2003’s “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance”, which I observantly read in true printed hardback dorm, could qualify now length-wise as a “Kindle single”, and is really akin to a nice long magazine article. I know I read it in 90 minutes, tops, and yet my reptilian, reading, narcissistic brain experience the act of doing so as pure pleasure.

Zaid is a Mexican author whom I probably should know more about, but don’t. His book on books was written as a defense and response against the cry of the bewildered, against the chicken littles who in 2003 (and even still today) see the imminent death of books and of measured, informed reading. He proceeds, Borges-like, into an abstract recitation of facts and figures that show just how defenseless we are against the massive mountains of books that are published every day, and that have already been published. In other words, there is more quality literature and nonfiction available to read than any sentient human being could conquer, even in of hundreds of lifetimes. Zaid defends those of us who have to delicately carve out time to read books in an age in which “leisure time” is often anything but, particularly when parenting; or when engaged in all-consuming employment; or when stacked against many other compelling entertainment and leisure activities - and so on. That many of us still read books at all (to say nothing of the fact that publishing is growing, not shrinking) is, to Zaid, a true measure of their nearly infinite staying power.

Many of his insights are pithy, and are delivered accordingly, but the net result is a nice state-of-the-industry and a philosophical inquiry into the psyche of the reader. The fact that it’s 11 years old now doesn’t really figure so much, except for the salient fact that his observations are all pre-Kindle, pre-tablet, and therefore there are at least 30 pages or so of missed exploration that I’d have enjoyed seeing him weigh in on. It’s a nice companion to the similarly-constructed (and even better) mini-tome “The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction”by Alan Jacobs. Read ‘em both!