‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

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“If you want to know the people around you, find out what they read.” – Joseph Stalin –

Timothy W. Ryback has recently published a book, Hitler’s Private Library. While it is certainly fascinating to examine books that Hitler has read and the influence they might have had, I think you can only take these types of judgments and perspectives so far. I will not deny that certain books found in his collection influenced his behavior, books and knowledge have a way of creeping into our daily lives, such as Hitler’s well thumbed copy of Racial Typology of the German People by Hans F.K. Gunther. adwhite1

But one simply has to go into their own library to discover that some books that find a way into the library are not always a true reflection of a person’s identity. I own a copy of Brittlestone’s Odyssey Unbound, a geographical and topographical history of the physical landscapes and places mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey and their existence in a real world. Why I own this? I have no clue, an impulse buy I am sure. It is one of those books that I purchase when I am in a very particular mood. Sometimes I like the idea of a book, and other times I like the idea of being the type of person that purchase a particular type of book. I have a passing interest in ornithology, but do I really see myself enjoying a nice relaxing afternoon with a copy of The Voyage of the Beagle by Darwin, not so much. A hundred years from now when people are perusing my past library in an attempt to piece together the genius of my life, what will they say when they encounter Odyssey Unbound,

“It makes sense, Gaurav was very much a person grounded in reality and interested in matters of the earth, so his interest and passion for geology and literature coming together is evidenced by this wonderful artifact from his library.”

We must not forget that sometimes we just pick up books that may not adequately reflect our personality or sum up our entire existence. And then there are those works of literature that people “gift” to us, and I use that term loosely. “Thanks Grandma, I’ve been eying Tuesday’s With Morrie for quite some time.”

In our society we tend to catalog the life of celebrities. If you’re thinking we do not do this, ask yourself why the underwear of Michael Jackson is being sold at auction for charity? Why do we care about the fact that President Bush claims to have read 2 books each week his entire presidency and that the majority of these were biographies of great men. Ok, so he can read, and so too can Barack Obama, President Elect. Yes, it is interesting to know that he’s reading Team of Rivals, a book that chronicles Lincoln’s rise to power and presidency and the types of people he placed around himself to help him politically. But as I’ve said already, just because a person is reading a certain type of book or owns such an item, does not mean that those “things” are symbolic of that entire person, it’s far too reductive.

As Ezra Klein posted over at The American Prospect:

Bookshelves are not for displaying books you’ve read — those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson. I am the type of person who is very interested in a history of the Reformation, but am not, as it happens, the type of person with the time to read 900 pages on the subject. More importantly, I am the type of person who amasses many books, on all sorts of subjects. I’m pretty sure that’s what a bookshelf is there to prove. The reading of those books is entirely incidental. The question becomes how we’ll project all of this when Kindles takes off and all our books are digital.

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