Sunday, March 29, 2009

Call Out

Having secretly harbored an adolescent desire to be a 17th century cabinet maker (for, you know, the meditative solitude), I suppose that it’s not tremendously surprising that one of my favorite Jorge Luis Borges stories is The Library of Babel. I liked the idea of pilgrims/adventurers wandering through a vast honeycomb of hexagonal rooms containing books composed of every variation of a set number of characters. I definitely remember thinking that I would have enjoyed math a lot more if it could generate stuff like Borges’s metaphor (borrowed from Blaise Pascal’s model) of the universe as a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Well, the internet giveth and the internet taketh away. In this case, it provides a neat little tidepool analogue of the aforementioned in the Library Thing. Now you can revisit the Dewey Decimal System’s greatest hits by putting your entire library catalogue online. You can wander through other people’s collections and engage in all sorts of cross-pollination (one of the features is The UnSuggester, which humorously tells you which books you won’t like).

Of course, putting an exact number on the amount of books you own (586 in this case) is a little disheartening, but it does make it easier to visualize certain “halls” of books, like Aphasic Crepuscular Poets, Reference Books that Verge on the Threatening, Dyspeptic Agrarians, or Technicians of the Snark. That being said (and allowing for the fact that being a writer and worrying overmuch about privacy is ridiculous in a certain light) there’s something slightly disconcerting about inviting surveillance all the way into your reading habits.

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