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Plinius and (half-read) books


images I remember collecting sign books for some years.  One day I got hold of one of the Italian publishing house Adelphi. Pink color, with just one sentence on it by, Gayus Plinius Secundus also known as Plinius the “Old”, born in 24 B.C. in Como. The rough English translation of Plinius sentence could be: ‘there is not such thing as a bad book where you cannot learn at least one thing’.  After that i bought good books as well as bad books. Books I could not stop reading and others where I felt it was like walking in a mires. I used not to give up on bad books, looking for the good thing Plinius mentioned centuries ago. Giving up was bad.

In recent years things have changed. I hardly finish a book anymore. Good or bad does not matter, I just rarely manage to get to the end of them. As I am typing this two exceptions come to my mind: The Magus which I could not stop reading and which was my book of 2008 and more recently The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwel. These are exception and no longer the rule. I just seem to jump from one book to another. Two weeks ago I was in Tanzania, bought Unbowed by Nobel Peace price winner, Wangari Maathai. It is the story of her life and how she established the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. I really like reading it while in Africa. He memories of childhood living in villages in the mountainous region of the country. her description of the changes that occurred with independence and the arrival of settlers and missionaries. I reached, I think, page 85 and then put it away as soon as I arrived home when my eyes caught The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I ma at page 69, determined not to let go. But that is maybe a wrong resolution. It is in fact OK not to finish a book. Plinius lesson holds still valid as it does not matter how much of a book you read, you can still get things out of it. One sentence which is worth underlining, a quote, a thought, a description of a landscape which gives you the wish to travel, a feeling. It is probably true that the sum of all these  elements give the overall meaning of a book, but it may be ok  just to have glimpses of it.  Some books also need to be red in certain place and at a certain time. Wangari book was for the two weeks I spent in Tanzania (which were not sufficient to finish it). The Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson I had to finish while still living in the Swedish Camp in Ha Noi and really slep very little in the two three last days there to read what would happen to Lizbeth. The Black Swan is here next to me. Wanted  to read it tonight and then started to type this blog.

Taleb writes that the people who visit Umberto Eco house are really impressed by his 30.000 books. The visitors can be divided in two groups: the majority are the ones who ask how many books Eco has managed to red, and a minority who understand that the books are research tools and that maybe the most valuable  ones are those that have not been red yet. This may justify fact that it is ok not to finish a book. However I still feel a sense of guilt when I give up on a book. As if I missed the chance to discover all it has to say to me.

So what do you think? Should books be read form page 1 to the end or is it ok to capture bits and pieces here and there?

Filed under: research

About the Author

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I work in development and live in Southeast Asia

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