Friday, September 27, 2019

Production Values

Owing to my careless in reading an account of what was and wasn't in a book, I decided to order yet another book. This was a hundred or more years out of print, having been assimilated into later versions of a predecessor. But it was my impression that a university press offered it still. I did not recognize the name of the publisher when a clerk at the local bookstore looked it up, but I ordered the book even so.

It arrived last week. I had a look on Friday, and found it to have been reproduced from bad photocopies. The machine used apparently had a flat platen, and in much of the book anything from a letter to a word or two is missing on the inner margin of the page--sometimes obscured by shadow, sometimes just not there. I declined to take it. After the second call from the bookstore, I decided that the store should not suffer for my stupidity, and I bought it. I will recycle it, I think. Donating it to Carpe Librum might lead to some unfortunate buyer getting mostly frustration for his $5.

Enthusiasts for the abolition of copyright sometimes seem to imagine the body of literature to exist in a digital, marked-up format. That is so for some works, for a few because they were produced that way, as with much government product, for others, such as one finds at the Gutenberg project, because dedicated volunteers have worked hard to enter, prepare, and check the works. But all of this is hard work, done for love, or for decent money. Too many of the publishers of works out of copyright are happy to pay minimally to have a work scanned, then print it on demand, without anyone having checked the work.. Nobody could have checked this work and imagined it readable.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Lost City Books

If you place book carts in front of your store, you can distract the habitual reader from noticing what is written on the windows. It was when I received an unfamiliar bookmark with my change that I glanced at the front door, and found that I was in not Idle Time Books but Lost City Books. I gather from the staff that the sale took place about the first of the year, and that it took a while for the new owners to change the name and the signs.

Idle Times sold only used books, and so does Lost City.The layout and much of the stock are familiar from the Idle Time days. This is comforting in a sense, though more turnover would be better for the store's health. Still, on Saturday afternoon, when I stopped by to pick up a book held for me, I was behind a young man who bought eight or so books.

Lost City Books is at 2467 18th St. NW, about the fourth property downhill from Columbia Road in Washington's Adams-Morgan neighborhood.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Whole New Game

For about a month, my bus reading has been Wittgenstein's The Blue and Brown Books, which he dictated in the 1930s, before starting on Philosophical Investigations. A 16th Street bus is not the best setting for reading philosophy: there are cell phone conversations, couples flirting, flirtations carried on over cell phone, ninth-grade boys talking tough among themselves, etc. But The Blue and Brown Books are perhaps easier to follow in a noisy environment than, say, The Critique of Pure Reason, and definitely easier on the shoulder and the bag than The Critique and other works one could name.

In The Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein uses the notion of "language games" to explore the relation between words and meaning. He spends a good deal of time questioning the notion of mental states accompanying recognitions, recollections, "seeing as" and so on. In the course of all this, there are examples of drawings--the square with diagonals, that interrupted slightly at the corner might be seen as a swastika; the figure of seven lines that might be a rhomboid or a plane figure; circles with dashes or curves inside that might be a face, and as a face expressing something.

It was the last example, in section 23 of the Brown Book, that surprised me. There is a series of three "faces", circles having within them dashes, curves, and dots. The first two one might take as having closed eyes invisible under the strokes for brows, varying only in that the second has a diagonal dash above the left brow--for irony, perhaps? The third has dots under the brows, presumably as open eyes. I looked at that, and thought, "Good grief! Emojis?"

Wittgenstein was a couple of decades in the grave before the first "emoticons", typographical ancestors of the emojis, appeared. Do the Wittgensteinians in philosophy departments now discuss the language games that might be played with emojis?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Beach Drive, Almost Ready

Sometime around the first of August, the contractor finished the paving work on the stretch of Beach Drive between Joyce Road and the Maryland line. In late July, the last layer of asphalt was not down, then in August I saw the asphalt down and pedestrians and bicyclists heading down. The cyclist I stopped told me that the road was now open all the way.

In fact, signs remain up saying that pedestrians and cyclists may not enter. At the transition points of Joyce Road, Wise Road, West Beach Drive, and the Maryland line, it is more or less inconvenient to pass through the barriers--only the skinniest pedestrians can pass two abreast, and only the most practiced cyclists can pass through at speed. But bunches of people go through them.

I suppose that the road remains closed for some work on bridges, and perhaps for the removal of some equipment. Last weekend there was  a small road roller at the foot of Bingham Road, and a compressed gas tank, with some other material, on the bridge over Pinehurst Branch. The roller and gas tank are now gone, but some material remains on the sidewalk of the bridge.

The practical effect of the closure is now negligible for weekend runners, walkers, and cyclists. The area between Joyce Road and picnic grove 10 is closed off, as it otherwise would not be on weekends; but there is little enough motor traffic on that stretch then. Of course the practical effect of the closure is substantial during the week for drivers who wish get into the park above Military Road and still can't.

The pavement is vastly better than it was before the work began. One had to run carefully to avoid potholes, then, now any irregularities are trivial. Will Morrow Road up to Carter-Barron be next? The pavement is pretty bad on it in places.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Weekend Reading

One long weekend forty years ago, I read Isaac Asimov's autobiography. This was a fat book--the listing at Powell's says 732 pages--that took him to the age of about thirty-five and to his first adultery. Asimov wrote well, but I think that I was propelled by my wonder at how many pages he made of a moderately interesting childhood and youth. The obituaries quoted him as saying that he had never suffered from writer's block, and remembering that weekend I could believe it.

On Friday, I happened to look in at Second Story Books. The clerk was handing me my change when it occurred to me that
  • Dave Eggers is not David Foster Wallace.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is not Infinite Jest, and
  • I had already read two of Eggers's books without finding a need to read a third.
In the end, I found myself thinking of a passage on Rousseau from Burke's "Letter to a Member of the Constituent Assembly":
He has not observed on the nature of vanity who does not know that it is omnivorous; that it has no choice in its food; that it is fond to talk even of its own faults and vices, as what will excite surprise and draw attention, and what will pass at worst for openness and candour.
Not that the faults and vices recounted in A Heartbreaking Work are especially awful--the recounting just drags on. It is true that there are amusing bits in the memoir, and perhaps were I forty years younger I'd enjoy it more. I read it in a weekend, all I think except the passage in very small type in the afterword, which says something for the book. But I won't be keeping it to read again.