Books, books, and more books

Fall brings with it the undeniable urge to clean out the clutter. Since I'm chained to my writing desk, I'm limited to the clutter in my study. Like most writers, I have this obsession with books. I buy a book and keep it until the end of time. That is, I used to do that, but moving three times in four years will make even the most ardent bibliophile question the wisdom of transporting few thousand books. So I cull each spring and fall.

Many erudite people have made insightful remarks about books. Here's one for the cynical crowd.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said: There can hardly be a stranger commodity in the world than books. Printed by people who don't understand them; sold by people who don't understand them; bound, criticized and read by people who don't understand them; and now even written by people who don't understand them.

That's quite a commentary on the state of publishing, isn't it? The really interesting thing about this is that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who taught physics, mathematics, astronomy, and other subjects, was not talking about contemporary books and publishing because he was born in 1742.

Lichtenberg did research in many fields, geophysics, volcanology, meteorology, chemistry, astronomy, and mathematics to name a few, but he's remembered primarily for his work in physics. His only true scientific discovery though was related to electricity. In 1777, he found that discharges of static electricity formed patterns in bits of dust. Though these Lichtenberg figures were of no use to him at that time, they are the basic principle used in modern photocopying machines. Now, Lichtenberg figures, radial patterns formed when sharp, pointed conducting bodies at high voltage get close enough to insulators to discharge electrically, are being studied because they are fractals.

He is remembered for the thousands of pithy sayings he composed as much as for his contributions to science. Actually, I think he's remembered more for his creative witticisms since he's considered a mere footnote in scientific history.

In an odd way, I find it comforting that someone a few hundred years ago felt the way we writers often feel about what gets published. So when you get disgusted with what's being bought and sold, you're in good company.

Sling Words out.

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