So Many Books: Reading And Publishing In An Age Of Abundance, by Gabriel Zaid
Among my friends there is a widespread inside joke, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, about certain books being Nathanish. Being someone who reads a lot of books of a wide variety, there are nevertheless certain constellations of books, in this book’s parlance, that are recognizable as being the sort of books that I read over and over again. Whether it is providing a thoughtful male perspective on worthwhile books that are written by women, for women, and about women, or memoirs about overcoming dysfunctional family backgrounds, or books related to self-improvement, or military histories, there are certain segments of books that people think of when they think of me. This book is a book about books, and its goal is to counteract the misguided and premature proclamations of the demise of reading by showing that increases in technology have consistently made printing more cost-efficient, which has increased the amount of books that are printed faster than the audience that reads books increases.
This book is short, at only 140 or so very small pages, small enough to fit in some of my pant pockets, and it makes its point elegantly. Mixing short case study approaches of the proliferation of writing, especially among those who have no interest in reading what other people write, and also commenting on some of the difficulties of the publishing industry, including the frequent overestimation of the value of warehoused and unsold books, and the difficulties in getting books to the people who are most likely to appreciate them, this book shows a wide grasp of the history of book writing, book reading, and book selling and blends all of those subjects together in a way that ought to both amuse and inform those who like to read books, including books about the making of and marketing of books, even books that make fun of those of us who are narcissistic enough to think that someone might actually want to read what we write.
Where this book particularly excels, aside from its value in good-natured humor, which extends to the author’s note on the back that points out that the author lives with a painter he is not married to who happens to have many cats, is in its conceptual framing of various arguments. Among the book’s many worthwhile points that is backed up by my own personal experience at least is that many people who enjoy technology nevertheless prefer the tactile act of reading a book over the flipping of pages electronically. The other worthwhile point that ought to hit home for many readers is that there are so many books published, about 4000 or so a day, most of whom are directed at a small audience of people extending to several thousand or fewer readers, that an essential aspect of readers is finding those books that appeal to them, and for writers and publishers, hoping that the words they cast into the ether find a receptive home on someone’s bookshelf. After all, those who acquire books tend not to part from them lightly, even after their words are ingested and reflected upon.