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Seeing Instead of Reading?

The blurb in Newsweek’s December 5th issue stated Books: Seen, and Not Read, making me wonder how designers go about buying books and what titles we let sit idle on the shelf.

Newsweek’s short article in Periscope stated that most people buy books based on their visual appeal, and then there’s the “geek” factor. The author supposes that people buy certain books to have them laying around, projecting an intellectual image. Titles may not be readable, let alone read. Such books would include Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Said title would sit on your shelf without ever being cracked open, in order to impress in-laws or guests, who marvel, “Whoah, look at that, they’ve read Hawking.” Author Nick Summers closes with “at least people are still buying books.” Nice attitude, Nick, would you still feel this way if you authored the book? I suppose if the publisher’s royalties pad your pocket, there’s no need to complain.

The last time I touched on this issue, it dealt with subject matter, and what books designers read. Now we’re dealing with usage. As a person who designs or writes (or both), is Summer just in his complacent statement at least people are still buying books?

Lastly, if you’re in a confessing mood, What do you do with the design books you buy? What books sit and collect dust on your shelves to impress those who happen to see them (design books or otherwise)?

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ARCHIVE ID 2485 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Nov.30.2005 BY Jason A. Tselentis
WITH 45 COMMENTS
Comments
Caren Litherland’s comment is:

What do you do with the design books you buy?

Read them! No, really!

And what books sit and collect dust on your shelves to impress those who happen to see them (design books or otherwise)?

Those would be all of the books from graduate school: the Benjamins, the Derridas, the Lyotards... Ah nostalgia.

On Nov.30.2005 at 10:11 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Derrida can never be read once, it has to be read many times over, just so you can digest it. I don't blame you for letting it sit idle on the shelf.

On Nov.30.2005 at 10:17 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Jason, truthfully I rarely buy books on what they look like. The biggest influence for me are reviews from the magazines like Believer or NYT's lists this time of the year like 100 Notable Books of the Year etc. I like knowing opinions before I jump into something. Recently I started buying digital readings from audible as opposed to the actual paper book. There's both pro's and con's to this approach. It's incredibly efficient to have someone read you a book, but frustrating when you can't make notes on the pages as you read, plus you're leaving the importance of words to someone else. Strangely I've found that I can read a lot faster once I've finished an audio book.

On Nov.30.2005 at 10:57 PM
Su’s comment is:

(*sigh*)

[...] people who consider a shelf a mere storage space for already-read books, and do not think of the library as a working tool. [...]

Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office."

--Umberto Eco, "How to Justify a Private Library"

The geek factor does exist, sure, but the article presents a false dilemma. Granted, that closing statement betrays an obvious lack of thought, but there are other options. I have no plans to read Finnegan's Wake or Ulysses anytime soon(...and whether FW is actually readable is an argument in itself), but I run across enough references to them in the things I do read that I feel I should at least have copies at hand.

Funny enough, Eco's The Name of the Rose had a stint as the fashionable buy of the moment in its time. Later, Foucault's Pendulum was often bundled together with Brief History as the then-current standard examples. And before you ask: Yes, and it's totally worth it for Lia's speech in chapter 63.

On Dec.01.2005 at 06:23 AM
Student’s comment is:

I buy books that fascinate me. When I can't afford them, I get them from the library.

Either way I keep them on my coffee table or bookshelf, in the hopes that visitors will look through them and be fascinated as well.

As for books without pictures, buying them and shelving them is strictly a matter of convenience.

On Dec.01.2005 at 07:13 AM
marc’s comment is:

I tend to use the bookshelf for what has been read, while unread piles of books grow in various towers around the bed, eager for their turn...

I don't tend to buy design-related books until I'm ready to read them (since they are rarely on sale and rarely found spontaneously--by me, at least). An exception: By way of an Armin recommendation, I requested My Way to Typography (Wolfgang Weingart) as a gift last X-mas--it still sits on the floor by my bed.

Some design books I have read almost immediately and keep on my shelf at work (visual communications analyst--a title I have trouble saying with a straight face, but that's civil service diction for ya):

  • The Elements of Typographic Style (Bringhurst)
  • Visual Thinking (Arnheim)
  • Typographie (Ruder)
  • Great Production by Design (Sidles)
  • Thinking with a Pencil (Nelms)
  • Ed Tufte's trio:

  • Vis. Explanations
  • Envisioning Info
  • The Vis. Display of Quantitative Info
  • I'm certainly guilty of coveting certain books for the shelf-appeal, but then most of the people I know and associate with could care less about what I'm reading, so it's a solitary joy and comfort I derive from seeing a friendly name resting within the bookcase, or the feeling of building a "working library" of substance (hopefully).

    As with other forms of art/culture, meandering paths of associations draw me to books: Someone whom I respect mentions a book that has influenced them or a writer I like mentions a favorite and this leads to one book which leads to another, which leads...

    Having recently slogged through a first time reading of Derrida's Of Grammatology (owning it for 8 or 9 yrs prior to this reading), it now sits on the shelf as a literary medal of honor, a textual battle monument, collecting dust and awaiting erasure by way of crayon/paint from my 3-yr. old son.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 07:45 AM
    Adelie’s comment is:

    I never buy books for how they look. For me, a book purchase is always about worthwhile content. This means I rarely buy a book until after I've read it and decide it's worth owning (which is most). Sometimes I purchase an unknown book from an author who's work I ALWAYS like, but other than that, I read, then buy. Also, my reading comes from recommendations of friends and collegues and maybe some writers who I respect. I won't read/buy a book just because it's on a best seller list or considered a classic.

    As for the idea that many people buy books for the "geek factor", I don't doubt it. I can't remember the reference (probably BBC), but there was a recent poll taken of British adults. Around one third of adults under the age of 30 bought books from the best seller list for the sole reason of looking smart. That one third never actually read the books. In fact, the poll showed that those adults buy 2 books, a "geek" book and a "trashy" book. They carry around both books, putting the "geek" book on display (pretending to read while commuting, etc.), but never read it and actually read the "trashy" book on the side. Depressing, huh?

    On Dec.01.2005 at 08:08 AM
    Aaron’s comment is:

    I can honestly say that I've read every book I own.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 09:29 AM
    christina’s comment is:

    What do you do with the design books you buy?

    Unfortunetly, I have an "eyes are bigger than your stomache" complex. I love typography books (and, for that matter, books on a variety of subjects). I am easily seduced by them. So much so that there isn't enough time in the world to read all that I buy, despite my voraciouse appetite. I love the way they look, the way they feel, (have you seen Bringhurst's The Solid Form of Language?) and I can't bear it if I'm not currently in the midst of a book.

    And where do they sit? Hidden on a shelf in the spare room. I doubt anyone buys typography books to look smart. They just make you look odd. As for the commute reading, I would never dare stuff my best type books into a bag, or risk them in the pushing and throwdown of a crowded subway.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 09:31 AM
    szkat’s comment is:

    I doubt anyone buys typography books to look smart.

    They just make you look odd.

    that's hilarious! that's exactly why i crack open Citizen Designer on the EL in the morning (Chicago transit), to look like one of those nuts who actually are engrossed and obsessed with their field. i have to imagine that cover makes a person look intreguing, and that's my confession. that cover solidified my decision to buy it!

    last summer i donated six plastic tubs to the local library by going through my shelves and tossing two kinds of books: the ones i know i'll never read again, and the ones i kept around ONLY in the far off event that i would have people over who would be browsing. it was amazing. now i only have five novels, a bible, six college texts, and maybe a dozen type / design books. to pare it down showed me what i value so much from the books i kept and as a whole better represent me as a person than if i had a more substantial collection that i knew nothing about... surprisingly very satisfying to only keep the books i use.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 10:24 AM
    Tom B’s comment is:

    I wish people would stop using 'A Brief History of Time' as an example of a book that's 'too hard'.

    I read it a few years ago - and I wasn't very impressed. But not because it was somehow above me. It just wasn't very well written.

    There are dozens of very well written, fascinating books on physics.

    I feel that my abilities as a designer would be seriously hindered if I wasn't constantly reading books on as wide a range of subjects as I can find. Not just books on design.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 10:39 AM
    m. kingsley’s comment is:

    > ...and whether FW is actually readable is an argument in itself

    Su, I once heard (greatest living composer) Robert Ashley make the argument that if you read Finnegan's Wake aloud in a typical Irish music rhythm (the deedlely deedely), then it becomes more understandable.

    Now that's something I'd like to see on the subway...

    On Dec.01.2005 at 12:24 PM
    Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

    I tend to buy books based on them showing up in other books (i.e. cited as source material, listed in bibliography, or related topics sections). I rarely ever pick up a design book on impulse without knowing the author or having heard it mentioned previously.

    The only design book I have been unable to finish as of right now is If/Then: Play, which, despite being called one of the greatest designed books of this generation, is visually too much for me. slowly but surely i think I'll get through it.

    When buying novels or non-design related books, its mostly on personal recommendation. Its a trust thing.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 01:36 PM
    Tyson Tate’s comment is:

    My student budget doesn't afford me much in the way of design books, thanks to the preponderance of ridiculously expensive design books these days. $40 for an 80 page manifesto on grid layouts? Puh-lease.

    Look, authors: I don't care if you print on sheets of lamb skin woven with ancient Indian silk using ink derived from caviar or on Bob's Dumpy Copy Paper - expensive paper isn't going to make your ideas and content better. Sure, substrates and ink are an integral element of design, but why must that translate into expensive books?

    Sorry for the rant. I just went to the bookstore to find out I couldn't afford How this week...

    All I can settle for these days is crouching awkwardly in the book aisle at the campus bookstore, skimming the $50 books for ideas before dashing home to scribble out some ideas.

    That said, I get my fill of designy-y artsy goodness through magazines like Adbusters and through websites and online portfolios. I guess it's cheaper to learn by example.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 01:38 PM
    fatknuckle’s comment is:

    Tyson-

    You think art books are expensive (which they are)? I had a buddy of mine in college taking crazy advanced mathematical theory (math major), they tried to make him pay something like $250 bucks for a 30 page book. Needless to say the guy bought the book, took it to the campus library and repro'd it then returned it.

    Is that stealing? I suppose but $250 bucks for a required textbook is ridiculous so I kind of got where he was coming from.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 03:07 PM
    Tyson Tate’s comment is:

    Oh - I didn't mean art books are expensive relative to textbooks. They just seem too expensive to me (however, I also think $10 meals are expensive...). Textbooks are in a world all their own. The worst type of textbook scam, I think, is the classic calculus scam wherein the publisher issues new editions every two or three years. The only difference between editions is question order (so you can't use an old edition in a class that uses a new edition) and sometimes they change the design a little and update the pictures. That's it. Calculus itself hasn't changed in, what, 50 years? 100? So you have to buy a new $100 book but then you can't sell it back to the bookstore because there's a new edition out.

    I can understand design book editions because design aesthetics and practice seem to change very rapidly (especially web design). But really, I was complaining about design books being expensive compared to other books using the same printing processes but from different subjects (history, etc.) Maybe I'm wrong.

    Perhaps I'm just a cheapskate. I mean, I published a literary magazine on Xerox machines just so I could charge $2 instead of $10. Maybe that's it.

    So maybe my rant would be a little more useful if I just asked if anyone has any reccommendations for design (print/web) books that are great deals (say, $20 or less). Perhaps reference-type material or such. (Stop Being Sheep doesn't count because I already own those two little packets of joy :)

    Or, heck, even better: What are the best resources for learning desgin and design history for students on top ramen-budgets?

    On Dec.01.2005 at 03:41 PM
    Zoelle’s comment is:

    Tyson - This book is just a bit over your budget, but it's a hardcover edition. I like it because it concisely explains a great deal of design principles. It is written in a manner which makes it accessible to the general public. I've shown it to clients to validate my design decisions as well as to provide a documented reason why a client's idea should not be used.

    (I feel like a kid on Reading Rainbow)

    On Dec.01.2005 at 04:29 PM
    Damien’s comment is:

    I love books, both the design and content. And if it were entirely possible, I'd probably purchase books equally on the way they looked as well as if they were useful to me.

    I like Su's quote from Eco, who apparently has an insane number of books and I try to treat my (much much smaller) collection much like a library -something that I don't have to read entirely as I get it, but constantly use and reference.

    I do buy some books purely on design only and have no intention of reading - and tend to buy two of each as well, which are the McSweeny's Quarterly publications.

    I probably would buy more books purely on the look of the cover, and simply keep them as reference, if I saw more that were appealing to me.

    I did by two of Bruce Mau's books a long time ago, Life Style and S,M,L,XL based on the design of them firstly, but over time have grown to appreciate them more.

    Two books I keep that I have no intention of ever reading are my grandfather's book titled: Elements of the Topology of Plane Sets of Points. Which I just simply cannot understand even though it is apparently written in English.

    And amazon.com once sent me by mistake a text book on the Nuclear Fission Process - which is funny and interesting to me. But again, useless.

    I keep a tattered and old Strunk and White near to me for comfort, and all the architecture and design and type books are incredibly well used and referenced.

    Dutch Type is a recent favourit purchase which I keep reading regardless of what I'm working on - at the moment.

    On another note - I find book collecting interesting. My Godfather collects extremely rare and equally expensive books, his interest being both type and design - as well as science. But he loves to show them to visitors and let them handle and touch them. His idea is to let people see the first editions of books that they might not ordinarily have access to. So there definitely seems to be two parts to collecting there. 1. being the enthusiasm for obtaining new elements to your collection, and the other being to show them.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 04:51 PM
    Caren Litherland’s comment is:

    Tyson, get a load of this.

    I understand (and share!) your frustration with the cost of design (and also architecture) books—but I'm also aware of the much higher production costs. Most design books aren't exactly paperbacks glued into covers.

    I meant to add above that since all of my friends also have tons of books, no one is impressed by anyone. And my books are thoroughly mixed up (Bringhurst's EOTS, which I turn to constantly, could very well be rubbing up against those dusty theory books); the ones I'm reading at the moment tend to be next to my bed and/or piled up on my desk. The only exception to this mashup is the Irma Boom books (Irma Boom is about as close as I get to hero worship), which are in their own little stack. For me to appreciate every time I walk by.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 05:45 PM
    Mark Notermann’s comment is:

    While on the subject of Bringhurst, this new book is of interest but probably out of reach for most save Damien’s Godfather.

    I’ve been suckered in by a few design books which don’t last as reference, and hopefully I’m getting better at spotting the difference. I would probably be better off spending the money on expensive titles like Typographie and My Way... than buying a cheaper option I could afford at the time.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 06:08 PM
    Damien’s comment is:

    Mark,

    The New World Suite Number three looks insane. Excellent link.

    Some of my Godfather's books can be seen in the digital collections at Octavo:

    http://www.octavo.com/

    Tufte also hands his books out during his talks - which he definitely seems to use for reference in his writings.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 06:47 PM
    marian bantjes’s comment is:

    I tend to buy books and then stack them up in piles "to be read" (along with magazines). I must be a poor time manager, because I just never have time to read any more. (Though i suppose i could stop writing on blogs ...)

    Some books jump the queue by containing information i need at the moment; others jump the queue by being given to me (either on loan or as a present).

    I buy books for various reasons (suckered by a beautifully produced book I see in a store; read a reference to somewhere; interest in a subject; momentary fanaticism ...), but these days I'm trying to stick to books that will act as reference; books I can return to again and again.

    I've stopped buying novels (although i still love to read them, given time), and have started giving away books as presents. Did this last Christmas and it went down very well. I got to spread the love of some good books and reduce my dusty library as well.

    I have never in my life bought books for some kind of intellectual prop., and to do so strikes me as bizarre. By the time I have enough time or energy to read Derrida my brain will be so mushy I'm sure all I'll be good for are comic books. Does Derrida come in a comic book? Let me know.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 08:17 PM
    Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

    A good thought, Marian. I'd been humoring Benjamin as a comic book, but Barthes would work much better. Mythologies just feels like it could be a graphic novel or digest.

    On Dec.01.2005 at 09:44 PM
    Caren Litherland’s comment is:

    Marian,

    First of all let me take this opportunity to tell you that I'm very inspired by what I know of your work.

    In answer to your question ("Does Derrida come in a comic book?"), YES!

    On Dec.01.2005 at 09:51 PM
    Lisa’s comment is:

    My ex-housemate was definitely one for buying books in order to look intellectual, so I know the syndrome well!

    Me? I like to think I buy books because I will read them. Not to impress. I have a reading corner in my study where the design books are lovingly stacked for my visual pleasure. At the moment, I've started reading Donald Norman's Emotional Design, which I'm reading partly for pleasure, partly to inform my work and partly to write about it on my blog! I also have a stack of green penguins from the 60s, which I collect just for the covers.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 01:47 AM
    marian bantjes’s comment is:

    Caren, thanks on both counts!

    I have, um, added it to my Amazon wishlist. I used to have "Trotsky for Beginners," believe it or not.

    Go ahead, call me shallow!

    I also found this hilarious read, which might be helpful (ahem) to some people here.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 01:58 AM
    Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

    Pseudo-intellectual? I've seen it all now.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 09:28 AM
    marian bantjes’s comment is:

    Hey, is there an emoticon for tongue-in-cheek? I think i need one for half my posts.

    Let's get un-funny for a moment. I am not now, have not ever been nor ever will be "anti-intellectual." I love intellectuals! Many of my friends and family are intellectuals. I'm truly impressed by the existence of good books i haven't read on other people's shelves. I gravitate toward people who are smarter than me. I just spent my foolish youth working and travelling instead of getting a formal education. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read all the things I should have read, just not embarrassed enough to fake it. I hate fakery, and would honestly rather have a read copy of "Derrida for Beginners" in comic-book form on my shelf than an unread suite of Jacques Derrida ... or Barthes, or Kierkegaard, or Dante, or Eco, or, or, or ... Consider it kind of a humourous flag to idiocy: the comic book would say "Search my shelves no more!"

    Plus, it's just fuckin' funny.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 12:21 PM
    Tselentis’s comment is:

    :-P

    On Dec.02.2005 at 12:33 PM
    Frank Juval’s comment is:

    I think it's just sad that there are people buying books, not reading and using them to impress others. I guess if one of their guests happens to know the book and start asking questions about it, they'd have a hard time answering. Or then again, they can just lie and say "I just got it".

    I have quite a variety of books. Both that I've bought and other that my friends have asked if I wanted. I have every intention of reading them but have been so busy with a full time job plus freelance that it's been hard. So they sit.

    I got to the point where I got tired of looking at them sit on my shelf and finally started to make time to read. I love reading. It's another way to feed my head. If I don't, feed my head, then it gets harder for me to be creative later on.

    I want to be knowledgeable about the history of design—illustration or art in general—its theories and industry ups and downs. Its only going to help me grow as an artist.

    As far as other reading material, it's just good for the brain. It's good to challenge your mind and open it. It makes for great conversations especially when you get together with people who have the same views, opposing views or different ideas an

    On Dec.02.2005 at 01:25 PM
    marc english’s comment is:

    think the last design book i bought was SAGMEISTER so i could see for myself. will get kidd's book soon as i love his stuff. and they'll sit on the shelves with the thompson, glaser, vignelli, once i've absorbed them. but it's probably been six years since i bought a design book. about a decade ago i stopped subscribing to design rags, except for the occasional STEP or C.A. all my back copies of Visible Language from the '80s gather dust, like grandma's recipes that i never make.

    picked up a great book last week called 'islands of the mind' about the role of the island in european thought and 'discovery' of the lands beyond the atlantic. but here's my new fave: alibris, where you can pick up rare, out of print or even brand spanking new books for less than cover.

    was doing a talk recently and refered to Man's rise to civilization as shown by the Indians of North America from primeval times to the coming of the industrial state, and someone in the front row was shocked that i'd read it. we bonded immediately. i'm up til 1 or 2 reading most nites. and not reading design. that stuff stays on the shelf at the studio to drag out when i need to show the young whippersnappers something. kind of like breaking out a Gang of Four album to show them that Franz Ferdinand and the Killer aren't doing anything new. and don't get me started on Joy Division/Interpol.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 01:30 PM
    Larry Cedrone’s comment is:

    As an afficionado of learning, I enjoy reading books on any subject (sometimes picked randomly), just for the sake of broadening the scope of my knowledge of the world. Being primarily self-taught, I look at the purchase of a book as an investment in myself.

    One can never become an expert on everything, but to at least have an iota of knowledge on a subject allows you to, at the very least, know an aspect of something that was essentially foreign to you.

    Picking up a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, written on a subject that you would not normally pay attention to, gives you the opportunity to look at a subject in the world in a completely different light.

    I believe the simple experience of gaining minimal exposure to a any subject via a written page is invaluable to one's growth, both professionally and personally.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 04:02 PM
    Tan’s comment is:

    I do buy books for their designs — as well as their content. But the design must please me first and last. The flip side is, I sometimes find certain books interesting, but I don't keep them because their design are so hideous. For example, I really admire the content of Ellen Lupton's book, but think the paperback cover and its design is quite ordinary. So it's in a box, and not on my shelf. Some ugly ones, I endure though for some reason — like The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, and Branding With Type, among others.

    I have design books, as well as old Sherlock Holmes compilations on my shelf. One of my favorite recent purchase is a wonderful hardback anthology book on Alex Ross's comic book work called Mythology. I'm thinking of buying the giant Calvin and Hobbes compilation next.

    And I have read Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and found it a good, but slow read. But it's in a box somewhere in the office, not on my shelf. I thought the cover design was kinda pedestrian too.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 07:36 PM
    jenny’s comment is:

    Isn't there a scene in The Great Gatsby where the narrator wanders into Gatsby's library, and ends up figuring out that the shelves are full of fancy real books, but the pages hadn't been cut (so no one could have possibly read them)? :o)

    I'm definitely in the one of those people who shelve books I've read, while building perilous towers of unread books around my bed. I had to put a moratorium on buying books earlier this year until we'd caught up and read through some of them.

    As for design books, I do read them - although sometimes when I get monographs or art books, I'm mostly getting them to look at, not read them. I may well end up reading them, but in bits and pieces, like a magazine.

    On Dec.02.2005 at 07:37 PM
    Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

    When I revisited my post-Katrina studio, I took a few books (mostly classics), but left 90% there. A huge stuffed bookcase full of books and magazines. Sort of tragic really. It looked more like a murder scene with paper and drawings scattered everywhere. Obviously the looter never considered books as valuable. I left behind ALL the design books and magazines, but took several back issues of Emigre just because I liked the tall issues best.

    What a mess! But editing one's library is a matter of necessity in these circumstances.

    Read "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole on the plane back to Atlanta.

    On Dec.03.2005 at 09:49 AM
    Caren Litherland’s comment is:

    > Isn't there a scene in The Great Gatsby where the narrator wanders into Gatsby's library, and ends up figuring out that the shelves are full of fancy real books, but the pages hadn't been cut

    Oh, yeah!

    And in the New Yorker a few years back, there was a cartoon by, I think, William Haefeli: a guy has brought a woman back to his apartment, and she's looking at his books, and he says: "Oh, I've had those books forever. They represent the person I once aspired to be"—which I can so relate to.

    marian bantjes wrote:

    I used to have "Trotsky for Beginners," believe it or not.

    Was that one of the books you gave away for Christmas...?

    On Dec.03.2005 at 03:55 PM
    Shahla’s comment is:

    When waiting for a flight to Kansas City to visit family, I bought David Foster Wallace’s paperback Infinite Jest in the summer of 1996. The anxiety, pre-flight, and for getting bored pool-side once I got there safely, coupled with having forgotten to pack one of many yet-unread books lying around the bedroom, made me reach for this much-hyped novel in the bookstore at LAX. Hauling the monstrousity that it is to and from my summer vacation, with every attempt to read it cut short for lack of understanding any 70-75 word passage (or even 5 to 7-paged passage) was truly an infinite jest me and my whole family were laughing about for some time. Even after I got back, in the quiet of my own home, I could not follow the characters, plot, or much else in it and gave up on page 71.

    It sits there on shelves with, among others, Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, Sagan’s Dragons of Eden and Said’s Ali and Nino as the one I’ve not read, mocking me; it has that value.

    On Dec.03.2005 at 08:21 PM
    Ricardo Cordoba’s comment is:

    I tend to buy books and then stack them up in piles “to be read” (along with magazines).

    It’s a bit of a relief to know that I’m not the only one piling up things I want to read (in my case, all around my bedroom), and then somehow never finding time to read them all!

    While we’re on the subject of books, The Guardian recently asked its online readers to talk about how they organize their books... Some of the comments are pretty funny.

    On Dec.03.2005 at 09:46 PM
    Michael B.’s comment is:

    I've bought books and never read them, but not because I wanted to impress anyone. The impulse is much more like seeing a commercial for an exercise machine and thinking, "Yes, I do want tighter abs!" and then pulling out your credit card instead of getting on the floor and doing 50 sit-ups.

    For example, after hearing people talk about Guy Debord for ages, I bought a copy of The Society of the Spectacle. This was about two years ago. I still have never read it, but by God it sits on the shelf behind me at this moment (and I was just able to check and see whether that "d" is capitalized, which counts for something.) And at least I can think of myself as the kind of person who has taken the first step to reading Guy Debord. (What kind of person is that? Well, I see from Amazon that people who bought this book also bought Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard and Illuminations by Walter Benjamin. This is exactly the kind of person I want to be.)

    The biggest book I bought for the pictures but never read is A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram. Nearly 1,200 pages and 5 1/2 pounds. The book's design isn't beautiful but the illustrations are amazing, although I vaguely sense I'm missing something. Nonetheless, I strongly suggest you buy it.

    On Dec.04.2005 at 09:15 AM
    m. kingsley’s comment is:

    Michael — I too fall victim to buying books with my eyes rather than my 'stomach'; but I want to encourage you to fail higher. La Société du spectacle (the French title — 'cause I'm pretentious) is epigrammatic and easily digested in a series of bathroom breaks — even for an idiot like myself.

    But if you want long-haired difficulty which looks real sexy on a bookshelf, and is a daunting trial of rhetoric; try Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Maybe a handful of folks have actually read the thing, and even less understand it.

    ...which brings up a French proverb:

    Half the books that are written are not published;

    Half the books that are published are not sold;

    Half the books that are sold are not read;

    Half the books that are read are understood;

    Half the books that are understood are misunderstood.

    Baudrillard's made recent appearances in New York and the New-York-elite media — so now's as good a time as any to pick him up. His work is sexy, poetic, not too long, and at times, outrageous — perfect for the train into work and perfect to off-handedly drop into conversation. Any philosopher who titles an essay "What Are You Doing After the Orgy?" or appears on a Las Vegas stage, dressed in a gold lamé suit and reciting a text before a rock band, deserves my attention.

    This thread also reminds me of a service offered by The Strand Bookstore: Books by the Foot. A couple years ago, I attended an apartment house-warming for someone that doubled as a press event for his architect and interior designer. The study contained lots of philosophy, architecture, foreign-language dictionaries, and about half of Steve Heller's output; strange, considering the owner is a high-powered Wall Street guy (no books on finance or global markets). Since all the books' spines were uncracked, I immediately thought "Books by the Foot".

    If anyone's interested in reading La Société du spectacle or in Debord himself, here are links to a recent re-translation of the text, a European DVD release of his complete film output, and some of his recordings (maybe, read the note at the bottom).

    On Dec.04.2005 at 06:37 PM
    szkat’s comment is:

    I've bought books and never read them, but not because I wanted to impress anyone. The impulse is much more like seeing a commercial for an exercise machine and thinking, "Yes, I do want tighter abs!" and then pulling out your credit card instead of getting on the floor and doing 50 sit-ups.

    genius. well said.

    I think it's just sad that there are people buying books, not reading and using them to impress others. I guess if one of their guests happens to know the book and start asking questions about it, they'd have a hard time answering. Or then again, they can just lie and say "I just got it".

    i wouldn't say i've ever bought a book with the intention of leaving it out ("whoops! oh, there's my copy of Modern Ethics!"), but i certainly have started and re-started the communist manifesto several times. that might be one i keep around to feel intellectual while realizing i probably won't ever ingest the whole thing.

    also, if anyone's looking for an amazing architectural selection, Prarie Avenue bookstore in Chicago is... well, come see it when you can. it's pretty sweet.

    On Dec.05.2005 at 10:07 AM
    Josh’s comment is:

    Recently I have been much smarter about how I buy books. I was browsing one at the Walker in MPLS and said to myself "55 dollars for this, i can get it so much cheaper" and indeed I did from Amazon. Though Borders has been the recipient of my dollars for gigantic commercial vendors. So students if you see a book in a store, know you can probably get it a little bit cheaper online.

    As far as buying then not reading I try not to do that. I have done it with one book in the last year and am currently neglecting Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. Which does have a clever cover that made me want to buy it.

    Unfortunately, I never seem to rid myself of anything though. Always hoping to use it, but never do. I would recommend the other writers comments and par some down. Give design books to design schools in your area and give the rest as presents or to those who need them more. Hopefully they will enlighten someone else beyond yourself.

    On Dec.06.2005 at 05:50 PM
    Ha’s comment is:

    I once bought a book because of the cover. It was

    A Little Friend (by somebody, cover design by Chipp Kid). I took the cover out, slip it into a sleeve portfolio. The remain has been used as a paperweight since then

    On Dec.07.2005 at 04:00 AM
    Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

    Ha, funny how you remember that Kidd designed the cover but have no clue about the writer. This is case in point.

    On Dec.09.2005 at 11:39 PM
    Su’s comment is:

    It's The Little Friend by Donna Tart, but I know absolutely nothing about the book itself. Which is worse?

    On Dec.10.2005 at 04:01 AM