So Many Books (Zaid)

Zaid, G. (2003). So many books : Reading and publishing in an age of abundance [Demasiados libros.] (1st Paul Dry Books ed.). Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.

One of the subjects tackled by Zaid in this book is the difficulty of measuring the influence exerted by books. Do books affect our actions? Clearly ideas are spread through writing, but to what extent? Zaid points out that an author can sell many books and never become famous, while some authors achieve notoriety without writing (or selling) many books.

Without discounting its worth, Zaid also supports in his own way the notion of reading as pastime: “Reading is useless: it is a vice, pure pleasure” (p.74).

Written in 2003, it is interesting to note how many of Zaid’s arguments against the eventual demise of the book are no longer as strong as they were. He asserts that “No book requires electronic instructions explaining how to read it” (p.77) but (some) computer systems and electronic readers are becoming more usable with every iteration. He claims that radio and TV shows need to be accessed at a precise time while books can be read on your own schedule. Clearly this has changed with the advent of the Tivo and of Intenet-accessible radio and television programming. He claims that books are cheaper than other media, which similarly does not stand up in this time of free Internet content. He also suggests that although books can be produced for small audiences and still be viable, the same is not true ofother media. This is of course no longer true in a time when Internet radio stations and podcasts are happy to have small groups of committed listeners.

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2 responses to “So Many Books (Zaid)

  1. Even in 2003 many of these arguments would not hold much water.
    I do like the idea of reading as a vice. Perhaps this is a track you should follow up on. To what extent do teenagers rebel by reading? To what extent do adults shirk responsibilities by losing themselves in a novel? Is reading fundamentally a way of doing the thing, or thinking the thing that is precisely what we should not be doing or thinking? Is the web, and mobile computing and always on social or business networks, extending task or work spaces into our private life really just a way of creating a moral, puritanical, business-created backlash against the subversive, immoral act which is reading?

  2. You’ve been busy! There is an essay in the most recent Harper’s Magazine (vol. 36, iss. 1893) that you might be interested in. “Staying Awake” by Ursala K. Le Guin is a response to the 2004 NEA report “To Read or not to Read.” As for reading being a subversive act, I suppose almost any activity can become subversive in the right time and context…

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