Posts Tagged ‘Bibliophiles’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The other night, my wife and many of her Facebook ‘friends’ had a back and forth about a link she shared.  The bone of contention was one of those ubiquitous internet ‘lists’. You know the kind.  ‘The 50 best cat memes’, or the ’36 best Presidents’, or, in this case, the ’32 Books that will change your life’.

What is it about the internet’s insatiable love of lists?  In the realm of book lists alone, anonymous internet patrons proclaim what ‘books to read before you die’; or which ‘books you need to read before 30’; or simply, ‘The Greatest Books of All Time”.  At the very least, these lists spark discussion, as proven by the good-natured argument had by my wife and her social media buds about this particular ‘Buzzfeed’ biblio-litany.  Most of their discussion centered upon what books should be on the list, and what books didn’t deserve such praiseworthy recognition.  Each participant added his or her own ‘how could this book be missing from such a list’ selection.

I, myself, had another query after glancing at the list in question.  Why, oh why, do such lists focus so exclusively upon that most recent literary invention, appropriately termed the novel?  Where are the books that will change your life not in the novelistic form?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good novel as much as the next bibliophile, but why do these lists ignore any mention of other types of books? If we are talking about books that ‘change your life’, or you ‘should read before you die’, shouldn’t there be at least the hint of philosophy?  Of Religion?  Perhaps, even the-republichistory?

Well, have no fear.  I will solve this list shortage with yet another list.   Here is just a sampling of works,  none novels, that should be read before you die; or that should be read before you 61Kvp0zgD6Lare 40; or that can change your life. Feel free to ignore my suggestions, and/or tell me what I missed.

  • The Republic by Plato – This may seem daunting, but most every argument crucial to Western philosophy gets it start right here.  Politics, morality, religion, social structure?  It’s all in there.
  • The Bible –  To understand our world, and the viewpoints of so many, read it from cover to cover.  Sure, there are moments in Deuteronomy and Leviticus that can get a bit long, but you can make it.federalist
  • The Works of Mencius – You may be saying to yourself ‘who’, not recognizing the name of one of the great Ancient Chinese philosophers. But, if you pick up his works, you will find an incredibly warm, and positive investigation of human nature.
  • 9781844678761_Communist-manifesto (1)Japanese Love Poems of the 10th Century – Again, this sounds arcane, but the poetry written during Japan’s Heien era is some of the most straightforwardly beautiful poetry around.  It is easy to fall in love with, pun notwithstanding.
  • The Federalist by Madison, Hamilton and Jay – Want to understand American politics? Here is where you need to start.
  • The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels – See what all the fuss is about.
  • download (2)Illuminations: Essays and Reflections by Walter Benjamin – Specifically, book lovers should check out his “Unpacking My Library”. With_the_Old_Breed_(Eugene_B._Sledge_book_-_cover_art)Cultural critics should delve into his “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for something a little less light.
  • With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge –   Sledge’s classic understated chronicle of his experiences during the World War 2 in the Pacific will make you question if there can be such a thing as a “Good War”.
  • foot2The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich – Still the standard introduction to art history.  Perfect for a college classroom, or for a relaxing read.
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman – A groundbreaking work that combines the art of graphic novels with an Mausautobiographical memoir of the Holocaust.
  • 2943781Descartes’ Baby by Paul Bloom – Bloom is a Yale psychologist who studies infant behavior and development.  I think every page of this book had me shaking my head in amazement.  It opened my eyes to the incredible world of children’s minds.

So, there you have it.  A quickly constructed list of highly recommended non-novels.

Now, go argue about it on Facebook.  Or, Tumblr.  Or, wherever.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

As illustrated from my previous posts, I am a self-proclaimed, proud, outspoken bibliophile.  I love most everything about books.  Book-sales?  Love them.  Bookstores?  Love them.  Reading? Of course, love it. The great Carl Sagan spoke for me when he rhapsodized that,

A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for saganthousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.

Hear, hear Carl!  No doubt, books are magic. They have metaphysical superpowers. 

As I am sure my fellow bibliophiles will freely admit, there  is even more to our obsession with these ‘leaves’ and ‘pigmented squiggles’.  You see, as a lover of books, I yearn for the emotional, spiritual fulfillment that Sagan poeticizes.  But, just as important is the physical nature of books.  A book is a feast for the senses.  The look of the cover, paper and text; the smell of the pages, glue and ink; the feel of the paper; the sound of the turning pages, These sensations assist any true book fetish.  

In fact, Sagan’s metaphysical magic can only be created if the physical is just right. It is difficult to lose yourself in a book if the environmental surroundings are distracting.  It is similar when it comes to the physical components of the text. For me to be enraptured by the spiritual, the physical ‘look’ or ‘feel’ of the book generally must meet certain criteria.  These are,

  • Paperbacks please! Paperbacks are better than hardcover as they are lighter in the hand, and malleable.
  • No small text! I don’t want my eyes to hurt after one page.
  • Down with tiny margins! I want to feel like I am progressing in the book, and with tiny text and small margins, one page can take an hour to read.  I would rather read a format with larger text and margins making a book 1000 pages long, than a format that shrinks down such a book to 200 pages. I want to feel like I am progressing.
  • Pages should be rough to the touch, with a hefty thickness. I don’t want to see the next pages text bleeding through the current page.
  • I like a pretty face. Though not absolutely necessary, an intriguing cover is a nice bonus.

book_of_art_01These physical attributes make a magical book even more readable.  Of course, I can look past some of these criteria if it is absolutely necessary.  However, if a book that sounds interesting is missing many of these criteria, it will often fall down my “what to read next” list.

Physical appearance is central.  All of this may seem superficial to some, though I am certain we all share the same feelings regarding the objects of our desire.  It is nice to tell ourselves that we only think about what is inside, but the truth is we always are concerned about the physical…..

Please people!  Get your minds out of the gutter.  I am talking about books here. Come on!

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The first Friday in August is right up there with Thanksgiving or Christmas as my favorite day of the year.  What is the first Friday in August , you may ask?  At 6pm on that day, the Oak Park Public Library opens the doors of their Used Book Sale.

This year's OP booksale.

This year’s OP booksale.

“Screech”!!! goes the proverbial record.   I think I can read your minds, dear readers.  You are probably saying to yourself, ‘the opening of a book sale is one of your favorite days of the year?  What are you, some kind of a nerd?’  Yes, that’s right. I am a huge, certified nerd; an outspoken, proud bibliophile.

Now that we have my confession out of the way, let me explain why I love book sales, especially the one in my hometown of Oak Park.  This will prepare you in case you wish to join me next year for  the summer session biblio-extraganza.

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times“: Book sales are simultaneously wonderful, and horrendous.  As you walk in, you get smacked by the stale, dusty air of thousands of old, used books.  This bouquet is often intensified by the heat of the room.  If the outside sear of the summer sun doesn’t warm up the air, then the crowding together of hundreds of bodies looking over the Cookbook section most definitely will.  These book sale-ophiles are a strange breed.  They can be rude, and pushy. Some act like it is ‘Black Friday’ at your local big-box retailer.  Others are simply zoned-in on their books, and don’t realize others are trying to browse.  You may ask someone to move without her hearing, and you need to squeeze by.  What often happens is one or two or twenty people will just start reading a book in the middle of a row, causing the natural flow of shopping to halt.  Therefore, if you are going to get all sweaty, carrying a huge load of books on your back, having your eyes water from ancient papyrus and mildew, you better find some good books  on the cheap.  The OP book sale is as busy as any other (often more so), but it is huge.  Over 100,000 books at extremely cheap prices. Two dollars for hardcovers, 1 dollar or 50 cents for paperbacks.  This year, I was able to pick up about 30 books for 38 dollars.  Jackpot!
  • Call me Ismael“: I often go into book sales with the hope of finding a ‘white whale’.  That book I have been searching for that I just can’t get myself to buy new for 25 dollars.  In other words, I want more out of a sale than just selection and quantity; book quality and rarity are a must.  I believe it is one of life’s great pleasures to spy a never-opened, mint condition book for 1 dollar.   For instance, just 9780374532505this year at the OP sale I stumbled upon a paperback copy of Michael Sandel’s bestseller “Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?”  As I grabbed it, I could instantly tell that the book was in great shape, and had likely never been read.  On Amazon.com, the book costs 15 dollars. At the OP book sale, 1 dollar.  Happiness is a warm philosophy book.
  • Happy bestsellers are all alike; every unhappy bestseller is unhappy in its own way…at a booksale“: One of the most humorous, yet annoying aspects of sales is the repetition of certain titles.  Some books have been ubiquitous sale standards for years, such as Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’, or James Clavell’s “Shogun’. Over the last two decades, I have seen a dozen of each of these 1970’s bestsellers at every sale I attend. ShogunNew ubiquitous titles show up each year.  A couple years ago, it was Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary”. Then, it was  James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”.  This year, it was Elizabeth Mitchell’s “Eat, Pray, Love”.  That book was EVERYWHERE.  This is annoying because such books start to automatically catch your eyes, and hence, make you lose focus.  If you see your 42nd copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” on a table, it is challenging to take note of surrounding books. I am sure I have missed many titles because I couldn’t see past a book sale bestseller. Damn you, Leon Uris!

Let me end with my favorite, personal book sale anecdote.

In July 2007, I packed up my then 7 month old daughter and headed to the Newberry Library book sale.  Upon arrival, I put her in the ‘Baby Bjorn’, which kept her at chest height and allowed her to look outward at all the odd bibliophiles. Of course, I knew I had perhaps 45 minutes to get through the whole sale, since my little one would start to get bored relatively quickly. So I was moving fast, bending over consistently to see the many books laid out on the tables. Sometimes I would need to do this peeking over others, as I couldn’t wait around for each browser traffic-jam to clear.  One time, as I tried to peek over some fellow shoppers, my little angel produced a massive belch.  The dozens of people within 10 feet of me gave me a partly disgusted, partly quizzical glance.  They undoubtedly believed only a grown man could burp like that.  I wasn’t embarrassed; I had tears of laughter rolling down my face.  I figured all is fair in love and book sales.