I am currently without my books. We are selling our little condominium and on the advice of my realtor, I have removed my books from the shelves. I have even removed the shelves. I’d like to think that there is a Buddhist’s simplicity in the apartment now, but really it’s just empty and crude.
My collection was not impressive. I have known some very good collectors in my time, and my library of some couple hundred volumes doesn’t compare. I am neither voracious enough, nor wealthy enough to build a proper collection.
Conventional wisdom says there’s no accounting for taste, though a great deal of money has certainly been invested in trying to do exactly that. Whether it be Amazon’s array of “Customers who viewed this also viewed” predictors or the more dramatic approach that Netflix took in offering a million dollar prize, such projects often end poorly. There is little correlation in people’s hedonism. Pleasure—genuine, soul-quenching pleasure—is ineffable.
There was talk during the Bush administration of examining library records. Librarians were right to resist such inquiries on the grounds that such a intrusion in the civil liberties of readers would endanger the ability for free discussion of ideas. However, some part of me wished to see the results of an exhaustive survey of what people were reading from libraries. Which books were reserved, by whom, and how often. This is the kind of data that would speak volumes about our culture. Only recently has such information even been theoretically available. And yet, of course we should not look at such data. Though I like to sometimes imagine that the Librarians of the world know exactly what we are reading and thus know who we are, or worse, who we would like to be.
Value Investing is the most literary of all the investment paradigms. It was invented by Benjamin Graham, a man who was not without certain literary qualities. As a prodigious student at Columbia, he was given a choice of instructorships ranging from Mathematics to English and Philosophy. Pragmatism drew him to finance. Alice Schroder’s Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life provides very moving portrait of the Dean of Wall Street, often withdrawing from the company of men and longing to commune with the likes Virgil, Horace, and Juvenal. “Money isn’t everything” he tells a young Buffet at a cafeteria in lower Manhattan. No, among Graham’s other pastimes were philandering, teaching, and writing, the trifecta of almost all literary figures.
Can there be said anything of Phillip Roth that has not already been said? As a public figure he predicts the end of his own genre. And yet, to read his work is to become intimate with the original thrust and power fiction has on the world of ideas. Existence, the subjective reflection, the booger rolled in the fingers and felt for the thousandth time, is still a vital act. Just because there are less readers does not mean it is unimportant. This is to succumb to the fallacy of near-history.
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