Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Former owner was a lit professor"

I found this title phrase annotated in a search for a book title that had understandably gotten botched, as I received in the mail today an edition published a year earlier (same publisher, but 1946 rather than '47!), one of many of the Divine Comedy. I've been researching various translations and naturally, the proliferation two-thirds of a century ago led to confusion then and now. The seller erred, I am sure, unintentionally, but now I am going back to try to find the right translation, one of so many. The reason for their abundance, now more than ever, may puzzle those who in a secularizing era still find fascination with Dante. My take on this examines why this draw to the other world in his poem also keeps lagging in the thick darkness of fiery and icy hell, rather than climbing back into the diurnal light of Mount Purgatory and then the eternal radiance, for most readers. But that will emerge, at least in my consideration, a few months from now. I am letting the piece sit, and sifting a few more versions and treatments, but the bulk of it is on the shelf, like wine or cheese, and I hope from aging it mellows, grows richer, and tastier.

Speaking of shelf, full already with books, including many attempts to render Dante's epic into modern terms, why add more? I already have to exile titles to the garage, and that years ago approaches the capacity my study and related bookshelves already have reached. I purchase, however, only a few books a year now. I get some to review, but even then, I reckon e-books will slowly diminish the physical stack, as they have in my music reviews, which I have to compile now with more research before the fact, often with MP3 song files and not even a P.R. blurb to help me. Takes the fun out of an advance promo CD, too, once music is soon streamed anyway by means of Spotify or the like, whereas at least books keep their appeal in physical form. But that plays into the problem here: don't I want fewer rather than more bulky bound books?

Why do I still gather some books, for keeps? Some merit purchase as references. Many are not in the public library system for checkout, being often academic or reference texts. I live far from any research library and lack access to scholarly resources. I lack, however, the bibliomaniac's impulse. While looking at my Irish on one side, medieval on the other, demarcations in my crowded room cheer me, or overwhelm me by their stolid acquisition, they are tools for me rather than fetishes. 

So, I ponder that epitaph in that abandoned copy of Dante. Mine too will someday be consigned to a posterity where I figure few if any will care for them. I wonder their fate, and I fear as I wrote in my previous entry that Ray Bradbury's prediction of "Little Sister"'s distractions rather than Big Brother's surveillance may mean the truer reduction of culture and learning to big-screen total immersion. For all her drippy chiding, Rebecca Solnit in this month's Harper's reminded me that we went from a fear of big screens in 1984, Orwell or Mac versions 1.0 to a love of small screens, distractions for all. As I try to find her piece (subscribers only, another indication of how not all information wants to be free, nor should it as I don't get paid for any reviews I type, and I don't begrudge the Bradbury or Solnit who makes a living as a writer) "Poison Apples," holiday traffic slows to 1984 modem speeds, aha.

Theoretically, despite the pauses timing me out as I entered that search term, as Andrew O'Hagan (born but seven years after me) counters "In Defense of Technology," we can remember the 70s, and for me much of the 60s, like lonely Eleanor Rigby. Whereas our connections now rest a click away:

"Communication was usually a stab in the dark: You might find someone to talk to about your favorite book, but more likely you wouldn’t, unless you moved to New York or took to wearing a sandwich board." Like him, I have no idea where my copy of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" is in vinyl, but I have the digital version of it available in seconds. On the other hand, quite a few of my CDs never made it to digital, just as some LPs never made it to shiny disc, and in turn, unless every book makes as Mark E. Smith longed "the biggest library yet," not even Google and their damned spotty book previews will stop some of us holdouts from scrounging online for what neither libraries nor digital content providers can provide, or will bother to provide, a reliable copy in page, on hand.

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