Alan came into the shop today to pick up some books. He wanted to talk about The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which he saw on TV last night).
Alan has a book in which he copies down carefully all the books he wants to read. The list includes authors, publishers, dates, and significant quotations. He reads these out to me. When he has finished all these books, he will find more titles listed in the back of them. Then he will come back again with another list. He said he’s on an endless journey of thinking. These days though, he needs a sleep every now and again as well. Then he wakes up and is off again. He found four good books today. All history. He loves history – all that going back in time, looking at what happened. Twice he left and came back with something he forgot to tell me. Again to recommend a certain book to me. Again to lend me a book worth reading. He is generous, joyous, and wonderful.
Artwork by Peter de Seve
Loren and Adam’s kids, with their astonishing names and unconfined attitudes! They love to read. Who knows what place they’ll end up in – Tibet, or Strathalbyn, doesn’t matter, it’s where your face is that counts, up keeping watch over the universe or contemplating the feet of the blue tongue lizard. They love to read. They rise and rise, an aching existence of looking a little bit further and seeing around corners, and never coming to the end of things. Always good when they visit. Always good.
I have realized I still have 3500 years of reading in my library.
The Lebanese writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls this unread collection of books an antilibrary.
He writes that a 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.
He predicts that I will accumulate more knowledge and more books. And that the number of (unread) books on my shelves will continue to grow as I realize the enormity of what I still don’t know.
“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a sceptical empiricist.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan
Brilliant. Going out to buy more books.
Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.
Worm. He’s in here.
They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.
They said, Worm.
She said, Is there? That’s good.
They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.
Great Grandma went past the other way.
They said, Worm gone.
She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.
They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.
Pa went past.
Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!
They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.
Sally and Jane came over to play. They tip out the basket of wooden blocks, made by a devoted great great uncle who cut and sanded each one by hand. They are silky and woody and click side by side in a pleasing way. Sally and Jane are emperors of the creative. They kneel and get to work, frowning, concentrated and direct. Max stands back, awed by the energy, drawn in, breathing hard, unable to join in with this much information confounding his eyes.
He wants to build, but so far in his toddler life, he has only participated in knocking things down, a powerful and passionate game that fills his mind and hands with cloudy and lovely detail.
But Sally and Jane have progressed beyond deconstructing to creating. Sally is making a wall and Jane, a robot. They talk to me at the same time. They tell me the local street gossip ( once when Jane fell from her bike, this other person just went past and did not help) and all the things happening at school. There is a boy who teases Jane and she must tell him that she does not like this. The sisters exchange significant looks. Apparently, the boy does not listen very well. To be in grade three and grade one is exhausting, there are always complex difficulties. Max sits on his heels and gazes at the faces of these little girls, he watches their eyes and their words and their lives.
He wants to knock down the wooden blocks.
Jane can see his baby desire coming true but she outranks it with a better idea. She offers him a treasure, a block from her stack, for him, to build. She says: here you go Maxy. Build it up, build it up.
Sally says, without looking up: give him more than that!
Jane says: don’t you worry about me Sally!
Sally says: well I know that my bike has a sore tyre.
Jane says: here you go, Maxy
And then Max is building. Building by himself, mouth open, breathing in the strength, dribbling ideas, stacking three bricks by himself, staring at this balance, at this outrage, at his new and accumulating evening.