What are you reading, and why?

This morning I was contemplating Entanglement when John's message arrived, suggesting that we might consider "...A dive into your latest existential issue? Or a report on a particularly interesting book you're reading?" ...and the refinement that occurred to me was "what are you reading and why?" which is a perennial existential issue out our way, and links into Entanglement. So here's an opportunity to think about (a) the place of reading in my life, and (b) my actual strategies in finding and gathering and consuming and arranging for later access <== all of which is pretty highly refined, from a lifetime of doing it.

Yes, I'm a bibliovore,
a questing bibliovore
of eclectic tastes
and many enthusiasms

It was the "and why?" that got me thinking outside of the foursquare box of listing the current books, and it occurred to me that

Just as I was contemplating all that, Kindle informed me that an order I'd made a fortnight ago for a book published today awaited me... The Lichen Museum: Art After Nature, so of course I had to take a look... and so it goes...

As for what I've been reading in the last week or so, mostly it's been John McPhee's Annals of the Former World, his 4-volume series on the geology of North America (some of which I'd read in the New Yorker 20-odd years ago). It is AWESOME and includes such unexpected delights as this:

"First you read ze Kafka," I overheard someone say once in a library elevator. "Ond zen you read the Turgenev. Ond zen and only zen are-you-ready-for-ze-Tolstoy." (pg 62)

...the Second World War was a technological piñata... (pg 126)

The week before it was another just-published Kindle book, Malcolm Harris's Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World, and Janet Malcolm's Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory (which I read and passed along to Broot).

Whatever may be the fascinations of any particular moment, they (a) spawn digressions and (b) are unpredictably but delightfully interrupted by Incomings, which often provoke new searches and new orders.

The place of the Kindle in the evolution of my reading is interesting to contemplate. E-books have advantages, especially in portability (assuming charged batteries in reading devices...), in immediacy of access (assuming interwebs connection...), and in the highlighting capability that produces Notebooks in html format, for later use as digest and tomorrow's on-ramp to return to the text. And Kindle saves my place, making it easy to nibble and graze here and there, and then to return days or weeks later and pick up the thread again (not much different from the slip-of-paper bookmarks that infest my codex books).

In the last few years I've done a lot of organizing of my several interlinked libraries, analog and digital. (See a digression on Terry Pratchett's concept of L-space

L-space ... a mystical dimension connecting all libraries that allowed time-travel, and was only accessible by the most senior Librarians. It supposedly contains all books that have been, are, will be, or even could be...
for more see the L-space website, and an Address by the Librarian of Unseen University).

...and so been inspired to pick up various dropped stitches of former enthusiasms, and to contemplate the stratigraphic layers of enterprises — the 8 linear feet of Sarawak books, at least as many East Asia books, even more anthropology and geography, the great wealth of photography books, and of music, and of fiction and science fiction and "fantasy", and history, and food, and technology, and dictionaries and other language books, and atlases, and science books, and curiosa collected over the years.

it gets downright Borghesian, all those forkety fork forking pathways, a mycelium.
The single best model for an organizing framework I've encountered is the division of Animals into 14 categories in Borghes' Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge:
Those belonging to the Emperor
Embalmed ones
Suckling pigs
Mermaids (or Sirens)
Fabled ones
Stray dogs
Those included in this classification
Those that tremble as if they were mad
Innumerable ones
Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
et cetera
Those that have just broken a vase
Those that from afar look like flies
...and Foucault's characterization of the Significance of which was
a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of thought—our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old definitions between the Same and the Other.
...which very closely connects (is spookily reminiscent) to the framework laid out in The Lichen Museum: Art After Nature
The Lichen Museum aims to help change how we see, and to interrupt and question certain habits and structures of knowing, being, relating, and describing by engaging with life forms that appear to organize their lives—and "selves"—differently...

Some of lichens' radical lifeways include collective identity, mutual aid, decentralization, interdependence, humility, and resistance to being used, as well as slowness, porosity, adaptability, wild diversity of form, and intimate relations with their environment.


A crucial complementary piece in Barad's theoretical development of the concept of intra-action concerns "the cut": how and where we divide up the world. Finding order and making sense in a world of entangled relationships necessarily involves cutting—dividing one "thing" or idea from another, making distinctions. Cutting is analytical; it is part of human thought, language, and perception; and it is critical to science, but the cuts themselves are not preexisting. They are what humans do with the world, how we create it, in active, engaged response to and with it, in order to try to understand and navigate in it. How we make these cuts feeds back into and shapes our perceptual and cognitive experiences, what we can see, quite literally, as well as how and what we are able to know...

...it is possible to think of the "cuts" we inevitably make, the boundaries or edges we draw around things, people, and ideas, as folds instead of cuts. If they are folds that dip under, out of sight or sense, their edges are only temporary, receding not discontinuous, not actually a "cut" but a connection, a continuity in /the flesh of the world/, retaining the potential to unfold, reveal, and reassemble, differently, at another time. (pg 39, 41)

well so it's happened again, that questing nose has brought us back to a gloriously scented rabbit hole and hold my beer, I'll be right back...


And connecting back to John McPhee, this week I discovered Myron Cook on YouTube. He has a very nice catalog of eyes-on geology videos, one aspect of which is an example of a wonderful teaching tool. An example (talking of "folds that dip under"):