Books Are Us

from on Friday, October 26, 2012 12:35 pm

In “My 6,128 Favorite Books,” Joe Queenan admits to reading 100-200 books per year, claiming that he once knocked off Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat “during a nine-hour Jerry Garcia guitar solo.”   If you’re somebody who reads a lot of books, Queenan notes, it’s probably because “at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.” Here’s the link: The essay was adapted from Queenan’s One For the Books, which was released Thursday. My favorite line: “the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in Dracula is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done.”

Books and reading are on my mind because last week brought many of us together in Portland for the annual AGLSP conference.  The theme for this year was The Crisis of the Book: Worlds of Opportunity, Worlds of Change.

One of the keynote speakers was William Diebold of Reed College, who used the historical transition from scroll to codex (a bound book with separate pages) to represent two different ways of looking at the world.  The information in scrolls – which he associated with the Judaic tradition – is embedded in a continuous story from which it is not easily extractable, while the information in codices – which he associated with the Christian tradition of typology – lends itself more to comparison and recombination.   Our latest technologies give us yet newer ways of accessing information.  How will they affect the ways we think about meaning?

Keynote speakers were not limited to academics, but included Molly Raphael, the 2011-12 president of the American Library Association, and Michael Powell, one of the founders of Powell’s Books – now a Portland landmark and familiar internet presence.  Both gave us interesting perspectives on the role of books in people’s lives and in the marketplace.

The pre-conference workshop for program directors focused on issues such as marketing, preparing new graduate students for the program, and dealing with administrative, faculty and student challenges.   (Many of the conference materials will be available later on this site.)  Many thanks to Barbara Amen and Reed College for a well-organized and successful conference!