Here is a sad reflection for the ordinary reader, faced as he is with lifetimes upon lifetimes worth of books on entering even a small public library or a reasonably well-stocked bookshop. Since we can’t have very many, we must husband our time and attention carefully. But how to choose? The melancholy may lift a little when we realize that so many wise souls who have come before have been willing to serve as guides.
So I’ll pull a couple of paragraphs from this piece and place them here:
There’s been a lot of handwringing lately about “curation” (the original meaning of the word has morphed into something else entirely; maybe we still lack a needed word). It has come to signify sifting through the ever-increasing avalanche of “content” in order to identify the things that are worthiest of our attention, and bringing those things to an interested audience. In fact, there should be no question about this at all; with our time and attention being limited as they are, it’s crucial that we have skilled cultural guides.
Books come to us by many twisty channels: reviewers, editors, bloggers, anthologists. Who is to be trusted with the question of that precious spot, among only a few thousand, to which one will dedicate the next book? When you feel hammered down by the incessant blaring about the new new new new thing, it is salutary to return to authors long dead. But then, there are lively list-makers in our midst nowadays.
and my comment:
"[H]andwringing lately"? Lately? I’ve been talking to students about this issue—introducing it—since the mid-70s. This problem was huge before the advent of the internet. But the internet has made the problem worse. This problem worries me very time I see some adolescent or young "adult" walking along with an iPod or an iPhone (listening to nothing and talking to nobody). Old school bad taste in music and old school gossip "elevated" to powerful new forms of storage and delivery (and at quite a cost).
And, by the way, one of the “twisty channels” books come to us is from “professors.” Bright students, hungry students, ask for reading lists from their profs. Last night, in a great book store, I overheard a woman asking an employee in the book store for recommendations for purchase. She was going on a trip and wanted great reads she could easily take on the plane, so they were looking at paperbacks. That’s fine; that’s smart. But I was curious about what I overheard. She seemed to be picking up whatever he suggested. Why did she place her faith in him? I recalled, last night, a scene from several years back in a book store (major chain) no longer in business. A woman walked in the front door, near me, where I was browsing through some remaindered books, and addressed the employee standing there greeting customers. It seems she needed something to read, so he gladly took her to the latest “hit” book (salty, greasy potato chip bestseller) that they happened to have all over the store. Now there was a true guide to quality!