Northanger Abbey (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen, Marilyn Butler

Northanger Abbey (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen, Marilyn Butler


Northanger Abbey presents reading as at once a trivial pursuit, a form of social bonding, the quest for pleasure and satisfaction, and a trainee’s preparation in reading the world. The pervasiveness of the theme of reading, from the first paragraph to the last, queries the frequent claim that the novel fails to hang together; yet it does not dispense with it entirely, since Austen cross-refers to very different kinds of novel.

Science Fiction-Media in Transition

Science Fiction-Media in Transition

: I don’t have access to this kind of thing on computer but, oddly enough, what you’re talking about sounds very much like the way I start looking for ideas when I’m not working on anything. Or when I’m just letting myself drift, relax.

I generally have four or five books open around the house—I live alone; I can do this—and they are not books on the same subject. They don’t relate to each other in any particular way, and the ideas they present bounce off one another. And I like this effect.

I also listen to audio-books, and I’ll go out for my morning walk with tapes from two very different audio-books, and let those ideas bounce off each other, simmer, reproduce in some odd way, so that I come up with ideas that I might not have come up with if I had simply stuck to one book until I was done with it and then gone and picked up another.

So, I guess, in that way, I’m using a kind of primitive hypertext.

Bookshelf | Literary Hub

Bookshelf | Literary Hub

In which bookshelves are installed at the New York Public Library

When the New York City Public Library opened on May 23, 1911, the building spanned over two city blocks and boasted one of the most impressive collections of books—and bookshelves—in the world. “ It is impossible to think of New York without the New York Public Library, ” notes Henry Hope Reed, during the centennial celebrations of the library. “[Its] presence is that of some great natural fact. It would appear to have always been there.”

During its initial construction, the newspaper media talked up the library’s bookshelves something fierce. Since the library was to hold over three million volumes, shelving and storing a collection of that size was no small undertaking. In 1905, initial schematics of the library ’ s bookshelves were published in the New York Times and Scientific American; articles claimed that the library had a set of bookshelves constructed on a practically unheard-of scale, unlike any other shelves in any other library built before it. On October 1, 1905, the Times practically fell over itself, gushing with enthusiasm:

The skeleton of a bookcase that will hold 3,500,000 volumes — without exception the largest bookcase in the world — that is what one may see to-day back of the great central hall of the majestic marble structure that is slowly rising in Bryant Park.

It is just completed, this marvelous network of steel bars and uprights, and exemplifies the very latest methods and appliances for the shelving of books. There is nothing like it in the great libraries of the Old World . . . In the Congressional Library . . . the modern steel bookcase is in use, but not in the solid, impressive mass, distinguishing it over all others, that is shown in the New York Public Library . . . Above it will be placed the spacious reading room of the library, on either side the various halls, offices, and exhibition rooms. Thus surrounded, this monster bookcase becomes, architecturally, the heart of the whole structure, the treasure for whose protection this marble palace is built. Even now, with this maze of steel laid bare, it is difficult to appreciate its immense capacity for the shelving of books. A bookcase holding three and a half million volumes means a series of shelves that if laid together, end to end, would measure over eighty miles.

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Bookshelf (Object Lessons) by Lydia Pyne – Google Books

Bookshelf – Lydia Pyne – Google Books

History tells us that we put books on a shelf. Cicero and his library suggest, however, that books don’t go on just any shelf; books ought to be shelved on a proper bookshelf.

What makes a bookshelf a bookshelf is not a given thing; every bookshelf has its own unique life history; every bookshelf speaks to its own cultural context. Bookshelves are dynamic, iterative objects that cue us to the social values we place on books and how we think books ought to be read. What makes a bookshelf a bookshelf are the recurring decisions made about its structure, architecture, and function.


Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

Happiness to mindfulness, via wellbeing: how publishing trends grow | Books | The Guardian

I’ve written before about my problems with literary decluttering. But who in their right mind would want to keep eight copies of a directory that barely changes from year to year except for the entries that are out of date? Well – sigh! – me. And here’s why. Many volumes ago, I was asked to write an essay on a literary editor’s life for this sturdy compendium of information for people aspiring to a writing career. While extolling the value of making lists, I wrote that it helped to spot the signs of new publishing trends.

My trend-spotting habit dates back to 1999, when it was all commodity books (powered by the success of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod). In 2002, there was a fad for cute micro-histories with titles almost as long as the text – who today remembers Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain’s Smallest Man?

And so it goes. By 2008, it was all about happiness, with a generical range that took in the historical, the scientific and the philosophical: clearly something more interesting was happening than a dozen books with the same word in the title. By 2012, everything was a biography, as the (yet again) updated essay noted: “We’ve had biographies of food, of cities, of an ocean, the Ordnance Survey map and even cancer.”

The point about trend-spotting is that it helps to find a shape in what can seem like one damned book after another. It’s particularly pleasing when, like the happiness boom, it connects different disciplines and appears to be driven by something more significant than simply publishers out to replicate the last big thing. Happiness led to wellbeing, which in turn led to mindfulness. This says something about social neuroses and efforts to analyse, solve and exploit them. With hindsight, it doesn’t seem coincidental that this strand of thinking and publishing coincided with the financial crash of 2007-8.

And hindsight is what those eight volumes of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook give me. They represent a historiography of my reading life, and the points at which it intersected with the wider culture, long after the books involved have been jettisoned.

Watch this space.

Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer – review | Books | The Guardian

Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer – review | Books | The Guardian

Scientific accounts of the world offer us a user’s manual – a description of how we interact with the world. They say nothing whatsoever about the way the world really works – what vision scientist Donald Hoffman in 1998 dubbed “the relational realm”: “We might hope that the theories of science will converge to a true theory of the relational realm. This is the hope of scientific realism. But it’s a hope as yet unrealised, and a hope that cannot be proved true.”

Proust Was a Neuroscientist – Jonah Lehrer – Book Review – The New York Times

Proust Was a Neuroscientist – Jonah Lehrer – Book Review

At 25, he has already been a Rhodes scholar, worked in the lab of a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist and been a line chef in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin. He writes a blog on science issues affiliated with Seed magazine, where he is an editor, and now has written “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” a precocious and engaging book that tries to mend the century-old tear between the literary and scientific cultures.

In college, Lehrer did a double major in neuroscience and English. One day, during a break in molecular experiments on the nature of memory, which involved “performing the strange verbs of bench science: amplifying, vortexing, pipetting,” he picked up “Swann’s Way.” “All I expected from Proust was a little entertainment, or perhaps an education in the art of constructing sentences,” he writes. What he got instead was the surprise Virgil gave Dante: Proust had already discovered what Lehrer was trying to find out. He knew 1) that smell and taste produce uniquely intense memories, and 2) that memory is dependent on the moment and mood of the individual remembering. These were facts scientists didn’t establish until a few years ago. And here was Proust making the same point in 1913.