To Abhijat, the signs seemed tantamount to putting up a large placard in one’s yard announcing: “I am poorly educated and illogically fearful.” He couldn’t imagine who in their right minds would be willing to publicly advertise such a thing.
Mr. Lyons’s first name is Royal. Maddy thinks that’s hysterical. She wishes she could ask him what’s up with that. Royal. He’s got white hair and he’s a little fat. Maddy likes people who are a little fat; it seems to her that they are approachable. He’s a little fat and he’s got awfully pale skin and the links of his wristwatch are twisted like bad teeth. He doesn’t care about such things. He cares about words. He taught her one of her favorite words: hiraeth, a Welsh word that means homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that maybe never was; it means nostalgia and yearning and grief for lost places. He used the word in a story that he read aloud to the class, and when he looked up, his eyes were full of tears. Nobody made fun of him after class, which was a miracle. Nobody said anything to her, anyway. Not that they would. She’s the girl who sits alone in the lunchroom, acting like her sandwich is fascinating. Or did. She skips lunch now.
She doesn’t know exactly why kids don’t like her. She’s good-looking enough. She has a sense of humor. She’s not dumb. She guesses it’s because they can sense how much she needs them. They are like kids in a circle holding sticks, picking on the weak thing. It is in people to be entertained by cruelty.
Arthur thinks that, above all, aging means the abandonment of criticism and the taking on of compassionate acceptance. He sees that as a good trade. And anyway, Lucille makes those snickerdoodles, and she always packs some up for him to take home, and he eats them in bed, which is another thing he can do now, oh, sorrowful gifts.
From The Wall (John Lanchester; 2019):
I suddenly got it. Hifa’s mother was one of those people who like life to be all about them. With the Change, that is a harder belief to sustain; it takes much more effort to think that life is about you when the whole of human life has turned upside down, when everything has been irrevocably changed for everyone. You can do it, of course you can, because people can do anything with their minds and their sense of themselves, but it takes work and only certain kinds of unusually self-centered people can do it. They want to be the focus of all the drama and pity and all the stories. I could tell that she didn’t like it that younger people are universally agreed to have had a worse deal than her generation.
From Dopesick (Beth Macy; 2018):
Those of us living highly curated and time-strapped lives in cities across America — predominantly mixing virtually and physically with people whose views echoed our own — had no idea how politically and economically splintered our nation had become. And also how much poorer and sicker and work-starved the already struggling parts of the nation truly were — because we didn’t follow that story.
We may feel more connected by our cellphones and computers, but in reality we are more divided that ever before.
I have reduced my active reading stack to one rustic box and one bedside shelf, so more than anything, these posts serve as a virtual TBR. Acquisitions are logged, then shelved, which satisfies both the reader and the neatnik in me.
Elsewhere, folks are discussing an article by Simon Fraser University professor Hannah Macgregor, “Liking Books Is Not a Personality.” The piece is thought-provoking, and the conversation it inspired was terrific, too. My acquisition process has become more stringent with each passing year, and my weeding is rigorous, too. The shelf space is finite, so the volumes in the permanent collection either “spark joy” or serve the antilibrary definition ascribed to Umberto Eco early in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Have you seen this clip of Eco walking through his vast collection?