Medicine For The Soul* And A Prescription For Happiness

June 10, 2010

For Monday, June 7, 2010 (I have been unable to access my blog for posting for several days, so I’ve been writing, but not posting and hoping for better luck.)

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. • Logan Pearsall Smith, Trivia, 1917

I’m shopping with my grandsons and they want books. I do too, although I hesitate because I know I’ll have to schlep them across the country. I’ve done this before, seeding the volumes among my clothes, weighing my suitcases down until I can scarcely lift them. I always promise myself I won’t do it again, but I break this promise every time I leave home. Books are the addiction I cannot resist. They delight, comfort, inspire, and inform me daily.

I pass up many enticing volumes, making lists in the notebook I carry everywhere (remember my hunt for cargo pants with pockets?). I see them in bookstores and in the Smithsonian’s gift shops. I read about them in the newspaper: John Horgan’s Bookshelf column (p. A17) in the June 4, 2010, Wall Street Journal is devoted to a discussion of Nicholas Carr’s (2010) The Shallows. This book will be one of my first purchases when I return home. I won’t be able to wait for the paperback and I know I’ll want my own copy to write in as I continue to collect inspiration for The techNObots, an artmaking project that focuses on the human costs of technology.

Digression: I know it’s not advisable to write in books that belong to schools or libraries or other people, but I love to converse with books. I date my comments and can see the progression and origins of my thoughts over time as I reread and continue to reference my favorites. This form of journaling is relatively painless since it doesn’t require thinking up something to write about nor does it require finding something in which to capture your thoughts. Inspiration and margins are right there.

Horgan reports that Carr’s book explores what the internet is doing to our brains, quoting from the book: “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” I’m in a motel with unreliable internet connectivity, so slow that many of the systems I’m working with time out before I can complete my work and I am unable to whiz around cyberspace in ways I’ve become used to.

This is frustrating since I feel beset by expectations that I’ll be able to work anywhere, anytime. It’s also freeing now that I’ve gotten my grades in and I’ve read students’ final essays posted online. I’m not going to worry about connecting while I’m out of town. If I’m able, I’ll post. If I’m able, I’ll check my email. But I won’t be spending hours trying to do what should theoretically take minutes. If I do, I’ll be spending all my time off in the frustrating quest for connection instead of exploring the historic city I’m in, thinking about what I’m presenting, and processing what I’ve heard from other presentations.

I’ll also have more time to look for books.

What kinds of books do you find it hard to resist?

Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one. • Augustine Birrell, Obiter Dicta, “Book Buying”

* Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes


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