Monday, May 07, 2007


Books That Make You Mad

Ever read a book that makes you mad? I've recently read two that have raised my ire, but for different reasons.

The first was "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything" by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not finish reading this book because it made me so mad. First, I slogged through the intro, which seemed to be a repetition of stuff I'd already read elsewhere, i.e. the Internet is making us collaborate more; everyone needs to become more transparent, blah, blah, blah. To be fair, I figured that the book had to start somewhere and had to assume that many readers would be new to its ideas, so I kept going. After the authors launched into how great the current generation is, how so much more creative it is than previous generations, I put the book down. This notion of comparing generations and how great one is in relation to another boils my blood. I wanted to scream, "Who do you think invented the internet and everything that led up to it? Don't you think that was just as creative as what the current generation is doing with new tech tools?" Honestly, I simply can't abide by these judgemental attitudes. It's why I can't stand the term "Greatest Generation" in reference to Depression/WWII folks, or the term "slackers" in reference to Gen-Xers. I don't mind an analysis of generations based upon shared experiences, or short-hand, non-judgemental names, such as Boomers or Millennials, just don't slay entire generations with negative assessments. If anyone has read this book and had a different opinion, please share. Maybe I'll give it another shot.

The second book that made me mad was Nicholson Baker's "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper." Working in a museum as I do, I have an incredible fondness for bound volumes of our local newspapers. Leafing through these books, which date back to 1892, is pure joy. Baker's book shows how, with the Library of Congress at the helm, libraries have wholesale ditched their collections of bound volumes of newspapers in favor of microfilming. (Round two is here with the current push toward digitization.) In order to easily microfilm these newspapers, the bindings have to be removed. Libraries, including the Library of Congress (LOC), submitted entire runs of our nation's newspapers to this disbinding. Once this was done, the libraries, finding space ever at a premium, decided to sell or destroy the disbound newspapers, rather than box and store the originals. The Library of Congress has even done this with books. All of this should make us furious. The Library of Congress is supposed to be saving the nation's history, not gutting it for the latest fad in reproduction. Their claim has always been that microfilm is a suitable substitute for newspapers that are crumbling to dust. It is not, for numerous reasons laid out in Baker's book, and the vast majority of newspapers are not crumbling to dust. Trust me, I know. I can still use the 1892 newspaper. It's a bit more delicate than later editions, but still very readable and hardly crumbling to dust or anything else.

The Library of Congress has a requirement that authors must submit a hardcopy of their books when they register for copyright. If the LOC is merely going to slice and film, I'd be tempted as an author to send them a little note with my registration, saying that I'm not going to waste money on giving them a hardcopy being as how they don't want it anyway, and offer to provide a digital copy.

Baker's book is excellent in that it makes me mad in an appropriate, how-can-I-change-the-system way. It goes into all sorts of details about the construction of paper (Did you know that mummy wrappings were used at one time in U.S. paper production?), the chemistry of paper, the political and financial maneuverings of certain high-level LOC officials, and raises questions about what we deem important enough to save. Obviously, I highly recommend this book. It will make you mad and it should.

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