The problem is MP3 files cannot look at you menacingly

Another example of al-Kindī is that you can absorb some of the contents of books without reading them, by irradiation, if you are surrounded by many of them.
David Derrick added that comment to How sleeve artwork changes the sound of CDs. Harmless pseudoscience... Or is it? Here is Nassim Taleb writing in The Black Swan:
A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market will allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.
The same theory applies to CDs. But the problem is MP3 files cannot look at you menacingly.

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billoo said…
Bob, I have to confess: I have piles of cds, books, and films lying around aimlessly in my 'library'-which is why your post struck me with such force.

What you seem to be saying here goes against much of what I've understood from your previous writing: the need for patience (vs easy access, the 'I want it now' attitude'), for example.

I don't know, accumulating can encourage a lack of attentiveness to what's under one's nose. No? And does it in some sense contribute to commodification?

Someone once said: only read what you can live. A bit extreme, but in an age of instant gratification isn't there something to be said for slowness and an 'unknowability' that is not always in front of us?

btw, Dyer's got a great essay, 'Mir's syndrome,' related to this!


Unknown said…
Like the last commenter, I too have worried about "stockpiling." I am currently reorganizing my home office, where thousands of CDs and books form a menace of a different kind. Does the difference lie in the term "library", which suggests something transcending a mere collection of objects/commodities? A book or CD in a home library has a presence ,an aura in Walter Benjamin's sense, that it would lack were the same object to be found in a warehouse of random objects. Perhaps that is what allows it to stare menacingly from the shelves. And you are right about MP3 files, which seem never to become part of my library even after I purchase them.
Pliable said…
Both the comments above raise an interesting and valid points, so let me explain the background to this post.

In recent months my book purchases have overtaken CD purchases by quite a margin - contributory factors are the dismal quality of the broadcast and print media, the unimaginative music release schedules, but also the absurdly low price of books . The titles seen in the photo were picked at random from an “unread” pile waiting to be packed for a forthcoming road trip. Of the twelve books in the photo only four were bought new, and they were all substantially discounted. Almost all the remaining books are out of print and were found for £5 or less on Amazon resellers or in a very good secondhand bookshop here in Norwich.

My reading follows overgrown paths, and if I find a reference to an obscure title and there is a cheap clean copy available (I hate underlining in secondhand books) I usually buy it immediately and add it to the “to be read” pile. These random purchases have brought me, and also readers, so much pleasure and enlightenment that I thought the subject worth a post.

But both the reader comments are right and “accumulating can encourage a lack of attentiveness”, and there is the danger of assuming that enlightenment will come with the next, or next, or next… book (or CD) you purchase. As Ajahn Sumedho teaches, desire and suffering are the same thing.

What is pleasing is the amount of interest a post on a subject as passé as books can generate. And I just love Jerome's observation that "A book or CD in a home library has a presence ,an aura in Walter Benjamin's sense".

But back to reality. Does anyone have an affordable and presentable solution to the problem of how to store the books? And please don't get me started again by suggesting buying a Kindle
My books are welcomed like friends,they are everywhere,fortunately my wife who is far better read than I,puts up with this.I have built in, store bought and piles of books everywhere.It is a sign of civilization to see a bookstore and/or library.I need to live to be 100 to read all of what I have here, and I could easily live,despite my love of baseball, without a Tv or even yes a computer.Not without books and music.I realize I have ventured from the path, however this particular post struck me.And I too, LOATHE buying a book with underlining, especially if it is adverted as clean...
Pliable said…
Patrick, quite so - one of the many things that worries me about mortality is all those books that I will not have read.

Oddly the CDs I will not have listened to worry me less.
Anonymous said…
Love this post, and the discussion!

First, to respond to the practical question… In my experience – acquired in part from four long-distance house moves – the most space-economical (as well as attractive and practical) way of storing books is in tall bookcases – as tall as you dare and your ceilings will permit. Whenever I've had to put all my books into boxes for a move, I've realised just how much greater a footprint on the floor they occupy once you move them off shelves. And, of course, you can't get at them in boxes. The only more space-efficient system would be to instal a compactus, but that would probably require a reinforced floor and a very substantial investment.

The Taleb quotation resonated with me. While my fiction collection consists almost entirely of books I've read (and mostly books I'm confident I'll want to read again at some point), my non-fiction collection is most definitely a research tool and contains a healthy proportion of books I’ve not yet read in full.

I'm more than happy to read books electronically (especially fiction – my ways of reading and using non-fiction are better suited to physical formats). But what I have yet to find a solution for is the "invisibility" of an electronic collection. In other words, your point about mp3 files being unable to look at you menacingly from the shelves. When my books are visible on shelves, I'm reminded daily about what I own, what I've read, what I've yet to read, the pleasure and enlightenment that has come from them. When books are sitting hidden on a device there's a real danger that they and their contents will also be "hidden" in my memory.

Recordings have been an interesting matter for me. My work has nearly always given me access to an enormous sound library, and on the one occasion where it didn't, the city's public library had a surprisingly impressive collection of recordings and scores. (Nowadays, resources such as the Naxos Music Library and Spotify only increase the amount of music available for quick reference.)

So when I raid the CD sale bins, I've always tended to go for obscurities – unusual repertoire, rare labels, or quirky presentations of music that I know might come in handy in the future and where I can't be certain that the item would be in an institutional library for borrowing. As a result and to give just one example, for many years, I didn't own recordings of the all the Beethoven symphonies. But I did own "Fun at the Festspielhaus" with Fauré's Quadrille on themes from The Ring and Chabrier's Quadrille on themes from Tristan und Isolde…
Anonymous said…
PS. Related reading: How to Justify a Private Library from Umberto Eco's How to Travel with a Salmon.
Yes, Bob why is that? I do feel the same,one regret is that I will not get to all the books I would like .Each time I think i have summit-ed,i find it is not a mountain but a hill or mound,with many more in the distance.Great post!and no one is screaming or wagging a finger[metaphorically }...

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