A library at its most essential, a space that holds a collection of books. A dedicated room or building is not technically necessary…But whatever form a library takes, someone had to have chosen the books in it, which reveal the secrets of heart and mind—their cares, their greeds, their enthusiasms, their obsessions.
In addition to all of your other identities—urban, rural, Christian, atheist, African-American, first-generation, introverted, immunocompromised, cyclist, gun owner, gardener, middle child, whatever panoply of nouns and adjectives and allegiances describes you—you are also this: a gnathostome.
On the afternoon of 31 January 1827, a new vision of literature was born. On that day, Johann Peter Eckermann, faithful secretary to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, went over to his master’s house, as he had done hundreds of times in the past three and a half years. Goethe reported that he had been reading Chinese Courtship (1824), a Chinese novel. ‘Really? That must have been rather strange!’ Eckermann exclaimed. ‘No, much less so than one thinks,’ Goethe replied.
From new Silicon Valley-funded startups in the thicket of Calcutta slums to ramen shops in Kansas City, globalism as both concept and an everyday fact of life is embraced by today’s well-minded liberal body. So if that’s the case, if the argument for globalism is so water-tight and damn-near irreproachable, why in the area of literature does one find so many supposedly progressive voices constantly bashing the very books that come out of the cauldron of heterogeneity?
When George Orwell was born in 1903, a young Winston Churchill had just begun building a career for himself in politics; his “finest hour,” as Prime Minister of Britain during the Second World War, was still some thirty years to come. By the end of Orwell’s brief life, Churchill had become, along with Hitler and Stalin, among the most important figures of the 20th Century.
This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350 billion envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250 billion Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.
Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And it’s true: when you see a family squabbling at Disneyland, there are any number of things that could have brought them to that particular moment. An affair? A recent miscarriage? Secret involvement in a drug cartel? A death in the family? An alcoholic older brother? But see a happy family at Disneyland, and your mind goes nowhere.
Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.
Threads of the rich history of Sri Lanka – from the strategic value of its harbours to its deep Buddhist tradition, the long period under British Colonial Rule to the violence of the Sri Lankan Civil War – can be seen throughout its literature.
Cocoa, wood, rusks – every book has a distinctive smell. And each smell says something about how and when it was made, and where it has been.