This Is Not the End of the Book by Jean-Claude Carrière
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The only reason I am not rating it higher is because the two authors-- Carriere and Eco-- do have moments when they just ramble on and on. After a while, you might want to skim some parts. But that aside, the book is set up as a conversation between the two authors moderated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, and it is worth reading. The two have great insights on all sorts of topics related to books, and even on some topics that may barely touch on books. They talk about books, the Internet, libraries (personal and institutional), censors, antiquities, privacy, etc. They cover a lot of ground in this book. I would say it is not a book to rush through. Take your time with it. Brew yourself some coffee or tea, and read a bit here and there. Book lovers definitely owe it to themselves to read this book. Librarians will probably enjoy it as well. If nothing else, the two authors do prove convincingly that the book is not going away any time soon, no matter what any naysayer predicts.
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My notes from the book. These are some quotes I wrote down to remember, with some comments from me here and there:
Maybe this is something that librarians can should help with, Jean-Claude Carrière writes,
"What the Internet provides is gross information, with almost no sense of order or hierarchy, and with the sources unchecked. So each of us needs not only to check facts, but also to create meaning, by which I mean to organise and position our learning within an argument. But according to what criteria?" (81)
He also states:
"Learning is what we are burdened with, and which may not always be useful to us. Knowledge is the transformation of that learning into a life experience" (76-77).
Carrière on the notion of filtering and the literature we read in school, the idea that such may be too purified:
"This notion of filtering out naturally makes me think of wine that is filtered before drinking. You can now buy wine that is sold 'unfiltered.' It retains the impurities that sometimes lend a wine its particular flavour, and that are removed during the filtering process. Perhaps the literature we tasted at school had been too heavily filtered, and therefore lacked the spice of impurity" (106).
Carrière on the reading of old books:
"Just as our journey through life, our personal experiences, the time in which we live, the knowledge we imbibe, everything, even our domestic problems, and children's misfortunes, all of it has an impact on our reading of old books" (159).
The context for the next quote is that Carrière and Umberto Eco are discussing the concept of authorship and some controversies that have surrounded it. This statement seems very appropriate and relevant to the current political climate in the U.S., applicable to many on the Right wing of the political spectrum of the U.S. these days. Carrière states:
"But in the absurd world of conspiracy, gullibility has the edge over plausibility. Some people cannot accept the world as it is; being unable to change it, they feel obliged to rewrite it instead" (166).
Carrière (most of the lines I liked came from him, can you tell?) now speaks on our knowledge of the past as it comes from books. This can be a sobering thought:
"A large part of what we know of the past, which has usually come to us in books, is therefore the work of halfwits, fools, or people with a grudge. It's rather as if all traces of the past had disappeared, and our only tools to reconstruct them were the work of literary madmen" (179).Can you imagine if some later, more advanced (we hope) civilization tries to reconstruct the traces of our civilization if they got stuck with books by Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Rush Limbaugh?
Eco on the books we have not read. So yes, there are books you know about and can certainly talk about intelligently, even if you have not read them cover to cover. A good librarian can certainly do this, and I am sure the skill is also useful for things like reader's advisory:
"There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them. And that doesn't just apply to all the books every published, but even only to the most important books of a particular culture. We are thus influenced by books we haven't read, that we haven't has the time to read" (269).
Eco goes further:
"So we can see that the world is full of books that we haven't read, but that we know pretty well. The question therefore is how we have come to know these books" (270).
Eco goes on to give an answer. This is it, in brief:
"There are several ways to know something of books that we haven't read. Which is a good thing-- otherwise how would one ever find the time to read the same book four times?" (271)
Carrière on what a library, at least a personal library, should be. This was definitely one of my favorite passages in the book:
"It's important to clarify that a library is not necessarily made up of books that we've read, or even that we will eventually read. They should be books that we can read. Or that we may read. Even if we never do" (284).
Eco then adds:
"A library is an assurance of learning" (284).
And finally, Carrière on what a book collection is:
"A book collection can be thought of as a gathering, a group of living friends, a collection of people. You can go to them whenever you feel a bit lonely or depressed. They are there for you. And sometimes I rummage through them and find hidden treasures I had forgotten existed" (327).