Meditating on books

Friday, August 22, 2008 at 10:54 AM

Hello again, and welcome to the Inside Google Book Search blog. We’ve been taking things slow lately, as summer slides by. But we’re not making excuses. Maybe while not blogging, we’ve been outside reading under the shade of a tree, or on the beach, where the rustling of pages finds its counterpart in the lapping of waves. Maybe we were too enthralled with Aleksandar Hemon’s latest book to pick up a virtual pen. Maybe we weren’t reading at all and were just lazing about under that tree. Would you begrudge us that?

I do think summer is the best time to read a book. Some might say it would be winter, because you’re inside so much, but I’m not so sure about that. Something about heat makes it even more pleasant to read: coldness demands motion, or at least bundling up, but the paltry effort required to turn a page is suited to a warm day.

Thoughts of this tone lead me think of the 14th-centry Japanese writer Kenkō. My favorite book of his, Essays in Idleness—actually the only one I know, but literary honor demands that I refer to it as “my favorite”—is a series of meditations about such simple things. He often reflects upon minute, later historical details of his time, people's behavior or, in this case, the pleasure of reading:

The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.

The concept of transience and impermanence runs through Kenkō’s work, but the book has been given a long life by other authors who have cited him. Here you can read all the instances of the above quote on Book Search. I would guess that Kenkō never imagined this blog-rebirth I have granted him, but he would know that as blogs become passé, antiquated and finally forgotten, he’ll still be there to be found by unknown friends.


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