Friday 3 February 2023

Books are a Really Expensive Backdrop for Ignorance and Personality

This little red dot means I've read this book. A play on words as much as a play on the sensibilities of people who read as a general rule. But alongside my love of self-education comes a price tag. That of not being able to prove you did so. 

My best idea on how to fix that is to simply show how the sausage is made. 

First, we start with books. Hard copy as the top end of a preference hierarchy. with kindle or electronic books and audiobooks at the bottom. This is pure paranoia but not unfounded paranoia. You can render a kindle useless and an account suspended via a firmware update, you can't do that to a book in the possession of someone else. You have to deal with the book owner when attempting to remove books from them and the book owner is 6ft tall and swings a big stick sometimes. 

But having books is not enough, you need to have access to them. Bookshelves are next. And while there's really no good answer there is a perfectly practical answer to how to shelve books if you want to become a collector. 

The billy bookshelf from Ikea is a modular system that has full-height and half-height options as well as full-width and half-width options. So it can adequately cover the walls of just about every room within a 15-inch margin. This is good because no one ever starts with a massive 500+ book library when they get into reading. But they often end up there. And with a bit of foresight, you can simply keep adding as needed until you have a room full of books. For some perspective, a single 6ft high bookshelf that's 30 inches wide, or about doorway width wide, is approximately 210 books. Give or take anyways. It would take 4 years of a book a week to fill that. So, we're not talking about much when we say get a proper bookshelf because you can split the cost over multiple years for an above-average reading pace. 

But these bookshelves become kind of central and nice to look at once you get books on them and here is where the trouble starts.

There's a particular brand of content creators that fakes the prestige and hard work of reading an above-average amount of books. Ones that will have perfectly manicured shelves with books organized by colour and size and make the books and the knowledge they contain a fancy backdrop, not the tool that they are. This is more common for fiction libraries but happens to non-fiction libraries too. When all sense of organization is lost in the collecting of books the knowledge contained in them is just as lost. finding a white Malcolm Gladwell book in a sea of similarly grouped white books is harder than finding a Malcolm Gladwell book in the "G" section of an alphabetically sorted shelf. 

But there's still the issue of faking the read.

I have over 500 nonfiction books, but I've only read and processed into my commonplace system about 112 of them as of the time of this article. I could easily start posting youtube videos about my perfect and well-educated thoughts on theology, with a giant library of theology books behind me to back up my claims. And a lot of people would fall for it. 

That's because books are a kind of mental Judo. They let you know at a glance that person is more than what they may appear to be. the same way a cauliflower'd ear on a guy at a bar lets you know who you don't want to fight with if a fight breaks out. It may have been that the man got his ear hit by an object at work, subsequently crushed and ended up looking like he hits people for a living. But it's likely he just hits people for a living. 

That's what books do. They give the impression of knowledge gained from reading them. But there isn't a trendy and aesthetically pleasing way to do the opposite. To show your work and show that not only that you've read a book, but you have understood and can communicate what that book says. 

Enter the red dot.

The red dot on all my books is a mark to let people know it's been read. It's the easiest way to accomplish and counteract this claim but has to be announced to make it work. 

The second strategy would be to review every book. Even simply, 30 seconds on each book is enough to let anyone know that you've at least cracked the cover. But a formal review of each gives you the opportunity to again, show your work of reading.

Finally, there is a simple and easy way to see if the person with books behind them is well-read or just a book of the month club member. Cracked book spines. For most book collectors. Paperbacks of any size are 25-50% cheaper than hardcover books. So when you're in a pinch to fill your bookshelf. You fill it with books that can be acquired cheaply. And paperbacks are cheap. But paperbacks are only pristine and square when unread. The second you spend an hour or two with them in their reading, you crack their spine. And a careful eye can see this evidence of use. It takes effort to not do this to books.

Charles Spurgeon famously remarked about this kind of thing when he said "A Bible that is falling apart, usually belongs to a life that isn't." Similarly, a bookshelf that is dishevelled and filled with well-worn books is a likely indicator that the owner actually reads them. 

I bring all these things up to let the world know, not that I've read a lot of books but to highlight there are a lot of people you know and like and listen to that have completely unfounded ideas once you start looking closely. People who draft book quotes from the quotes section and not from a personal collection of insights and notes taken from reading books. These same people will tweet these things as content to add authority to their opinions online. But when a similar action though much less attractive an option is used. One of posting pictures of your highlighted and dog-eared page instead of typing the quote. Then a person sees you spent the time, engaging with the ideas of the book before you chose to use it as content for your audience.

Knowledge can be faked these days in ways our former intellectual giants might not have ever fathomed. And a rising and important skill will be not only discernment in what's right and what looks right. But also how to spot those who write what's right and what looks right. So to bookend this post.

Books are a Really Expensive Backdrop for Ignorance and Personality.

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