I enjoyed the serendipity of hearing about Adam Curtis’s new documentary series on (amongst many other things) our fascination with conspiracy theories at the same time as being sent a Kindle discount voucher for Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. I haven’t re-read that in years, perhaps now would be a perfect time.
Get any good books for Christmas? I got the obligatory gift voucher, just trying to decide what to spend it on now.
The best books of 2020 – Kottke
Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.
I came across that last one back in February, still not got around to it. I’m in good company, at least.
Building an antilibrary: the power of unread books – Ness Labs
For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.
But that doesn’t help me pick what to get with my voucher, does it?
Help us pick the best book cover of 2020 – Electric Literature
This hasn’t been an easy year for sustained, careful reading. But you know what doesn’t take any attention at all? Judging a book by its cover! That’s why we’re doing our first ever “best book cover of the year” tournament—and we want you to weigh in.
These were their finalists. Which one do you think won? I think they made a good choice.
Libraries are remarkable buildings.
Experience the beauty of libraries around the world through this instagram series
Over the past two years, Savoie has traveled from his home city of Montréal, to Berlin, Amsterdam, Budapest, Rome, Riga, Paris, Moscow, and several other cities photographing the stunning architecture of libraries. Encountering language barriers and even intense security, Savoie’s dedication to taking the perfect photo has resulted in a stunning collection of images.
The world’s most beautiful libraries
In a new Taschen book, the Italian photographer Massimo Listri travels around the world to some of the oldest libraries, revealing a treasure trove of unique and imaginative architecture.
But, of course, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Every library has a story to tell
But whatever form a library takes, someone had to have chosen the books in it, which reveal the secrets of heart and mind—their cares, their greeds, their enthusiasms, their obsessions.
‘Spectacular’ ancient public library discovered in Germany
It is not clear how many scrolls the library would have held, but it would have been “quite huge – maybe 20,000”, said Schmitz. The building would have been slightly smaller than the famed library at Ephesus, which was built in 117 AD. He described the discovery as “really incredible – a spectacular find”.
The secret libraries of history
“The new technique is amazing in that it shows us fragments – medieval text – that we could otherwise never see because they are hidden behind a layer of parchment or paper,” wrote Kwakkel in a blog post about his Hidden Library project. While the technology needs to be improved, it hints at a process that could reveal a secret library within a library. “We might be able to access a hidden medieval ‘library’ if we were able to gain access to the thousands of manuscript fragments hidden in bindings.”
Watch Umberto Eco walk through his immense private library: it goes on, and on, and on!
We can only imagine how many such citadels of knowledge Eco visited in his travels all over the world, but we don’t have to imagine the one he built himself, since we can see it in the video above. Though not infinite like the library of all possible books imagined by Borges, Eco’s private home library looks, from certain angles, nearly as big. The camera follows Eco as he passes shelf after packed shelf, some lining the walls and others standing free, eventually finding his way to one volume in particular — despite the fact that he apparently shelved very few of his books with their spines facing outward.
That last line about his books not facing outwards? Reminded me of this post from a couple of months back.
I’m not alone in having unread books on my bookshelf. (Sometimes they don’t even get that far.)
“Tsundoku,” the Japanese word for the new books that pile up on our shelves, should enter the English language
There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my apartment. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.
We readers all have books we can’t seem to finish, but the same seems to be true of authors.
In praise of unfinished novels
A more accurate term, I think, is “agony.” Although the word now denotes intense mental suffering, the Greek word agonia originally meant a “struggle for victory,” and the combatant who did the struggling was called an agonist. The agony of authors like Ellison, Twain, and Wallace, along with others like Truman Capote, combined these senses. In their unfinished novels, we bear witness to a contest between an author and their work beneath which flows a current of psychological anguish. This palpable sense of friction is one of the chief beauties of unfinished novels […]
In my ambles through the history of literary failure, I discovered that not every unfinishable novel is as tortured as Ellison’s was. Indeed, many embrace unfinishability as an aesthetic virtue. This is certainly true of postmodern novels like Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which revel in their potential endlessness, but earlier centuries had their partisans of the unfinished, too. Herman Melville concludes a chapter of Moby-Dick, for instance, with the declaration, “God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught.”
Not so much left on the shelf as never made it to the shelf in the first place.
Speaking of not reading books though, here’s a great passage from Umberto Eco’s review of Pierre Bayard’s book, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.
On unread books
But the most interesting thing is that Bayard has failed to notice that, in admitting his three intentional errors, he implicitly assumes that one way of reading is more correct than others, so that he carries out a meticulous study of the books he quotes in order to support his theory about not reading them. The contradiction is so apparent that it makes one wonder whether Bayard has actually read the book he’s written.
"Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco, who is curating a new exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, talks to SPIEGEL about the place lists hold in the history of culture, the ways we try to avoid thinking about death and why Google is dangerous for young people."
Times Higher Ed Book of the week: The Infinity of Lists, Umberto Eco
And if you think the previous sentences were a little clogged, repetitive, extravagant, wasteful, prodigal, lavish or over-egged, then it is just possible that this is not the book for you. To anyone, however, who takes pleasure, delight, joy, gladness, glee, satisfaction, gratification, contentment, enjoyment or amusement in contemplating excess, it may be just the ticket, pass, authorisation, permit, token, coupon or voucher.
Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World
Supported by the principal bodies and agencies in UK post-compulsory education, the Committee was set up in February 2008 to conduct an independent inquiry into the strategic and policy implications for higher education of the experience and expectations of learners in the light of their increasing use of the newest technologies.
SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco: ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’
The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.