Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I Practice Wabi-Sabi

Having long been a fan of Japanese thinking, I have wrestled mightily with the concept of Wabi-Sabi which is the idea that there is beauty in imperfection. Supposedly WabiSabi was first originated with Zen practioners who hold that there is no such thing as permanence or perfection. All things are impermanent and imperfect.

The concept has entered my mind on many occasions when I obsessively try to find the most perfect copy of a book to purchase. On more than one occasion I have rejected a book simply because it had some minor imperfection -- it doesn't take much more than a tiny tear or ding to cancel the purchase. In fact I am still looking for a copy of a particular book, having rejected all the copies I've seen so far for some flaw.

I now have a great opportunity to embrace Wabi-Sabi as a truly unfortunate event has befallen some of my books. A mysterious leak recently appeared in my basement and the small amount of water that soaked through my ceiling tiles (causing several of them to fall) fell on the floor of one room causing quite a bit of damage as it migrated under the carpet and under the boxes and piles of books that were stacked on the floor. Hundreds of books and magazines were affected, some pretty badly. Never one to throw out anything, I tried to save as many of them as I could by spreading them out to dry on my deck. A great percentage of them were in fact saved but I now have an awful lot of imperfect objects to practice Wabi-Sabi on. Now doubt I will be a Wabi-Sabi master before long (certainly if I don't find the elusive leak which has mysteriously cured itself for the moment).

Of course I will soon begin to consult my extensive Zen library to learn as much about Wabi-Sabi as I can, but in the meantime I've bought some of those nifty water alarms to make sure I don't have too many imperfect books to contemplate. Keep your powder and books dry!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

On Bullshit

Finally, a book I can do without. I'm paging through the August 7, 2005 issue of The New York Review of Books, and there it is on page 77 in a quarter page ad. The book is entitled On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (Princeton University Press). Lest you think this is some joke, I might mention that Mr. Frankfurt is a philosophy professor emeritus at Princeton University. Amazed at how a book like this could only be $9.95 in cloth, I go to the internet and find several reviews of the book. Dana Milbank's review for The Washington Post highlights the contrast between the book's promotional package which screams out "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" with the fact that the material was written nineteen years ago and has been previously published twice already. In case you missed it the first two times around or aren't exactly convinced yet, here's some help from the ad copy:

  • There is SO MUCH BULLSHIT in our culture. But why? What function does bullshit serve? According to philosopher Harry Frankfurt, we lack a clear theory of bullshit. With insight and humor, Frankfurt attempts to build such a theory.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Da Vinci Flinchy

I usually avoid The Wall Street Journal like the plague. It isn't that I don't like the paper. Actually I think it has some fascinating articles but I just don't have the time to read another paper. Friday's Journal is always a temptation though because the Weekend Journal section is pretty hard to resist. What usually tips me over is a good article in the first section and this past Friday's paper did it again. Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg's article was simply must reading for any booklover. Entitled "Quest For Best Seller Creates a Pileup of Returned Books," it referred to the book biz as "an industry gone mad," and the details seem to prove it. In the last ten years, book returns have quadrupled from 200 million dollars to a whopping 800 million. The article told of a Time Warner warehouse with twenty million unsold books, two to four million of which will be deemed unsaleable even as remainders with their fate being recycling. And that's just one publisher!

One of the most fascinating parts of the article was the long journey a book takes until it is returned to the publisher. In an example cited, books were shipped from a Time Warner warehouse in Indiana to a Barnes and Noble store in Marina Del Rey, California. After they remained unsold, they began a 2,800 mile journey back to Barnes and Noble's national distribution center in New Jersey (about seven miles from where I live). Barnes and Noble then sent the books on another 700 mile journey back to the Time-Warner Indiana warehouse. From there, they will eventually be sold as remainders and go on yet another journey, some of which will obviously be going back to Barnes and Noble yet again.

The subtitle of the article was: Hoping For a Da Vinci Code, Publishers Flood Stores. One can only wonder where this business is heading. It's pretty doubtful it'll have a pretty ending.

In related matters, there is a great piece in the latest New York Times Book Review (Cash Up Front) which tells what publishers have to do and pay to get their books prominently displayed in a bookstore. I guess the little guy just doesn't have much of a chance today. Maybe we can adopt a cause and do a little of our own impromptu display work on a title. Might be fun.