Monday, December 20, 2021

hiddenshelf

The Mimetic, the Anti-Mimetic, and a Quote

The Mimetic

The way we choose books to read. In my early twenties, I defaulted into books—I read the easy stuff that came to me naturally. When I say that “I read the easy stuff”, I don’t mean page-turners or Dan Brownesque thrillers; and I don’t mean the books that make the bestseller lists or a celebrity author’s ‘Book Picks of the Year.’ I’m also not referring to the ease of algorithmic suggestion, either. No doubt that it’s easy to one-click buy the books that show up constantly in my feed, or the books Amazon suggests to me, or the books that an Instagram ‘influencer’ photographs himself reading on the couch amidst mindblowing hygge—cozy quilts, hot chocolate, and the world’s most comfortable socks. There are a myraid of mimetic forces at work when it comes to what we read. What I really mean is this: I defaulted into the most frictionless type of reading possible. I only read books that I thought I would ‘like.’ That seems like a natural thing to do, doesn’t it? No, not exactly. If ease or comfort-level is what I limit my book-reading to, it’ll be hard to understand new perspectives—or even to receive them in the first place. I’m likely to become more intellectually and spiritually fragile. I won’t develop any anti-mimetic machinery in my gut to resist a world caught up in a Cult of Convenience. It’s not natural to default to what’s comfortable. We weren’t made for comfort; we were made for greatness.

The Anti-Mimetic

Each year I make a concerted effort to read books that I would not naturally ‘want’ to read if left to my own devices. It’s a sort of anti-mimetic process of selection in which I override some of my initial biases and comforts. I bracket out the strong influences at work in my life by intentionally shielding myself from where I might be being led. I pursue something different—not because I think I’ll like it, but precisely because I think that I probably won’t. I call the books like this that I read part of my “Deep Bookshelf.” Here’s what is on mine for 2021. What’s going on yours in 2022?

A shallow bookshelf consists of books that aren’t capable of breaking up the frozen sea within us. It contains books that are acquired and read with the least amount of friction possible. Eventually, we’ll get stuck on the floor of that shallow sea, unable to advance. So cast out into the deep with me and lower your nets for a catch.

Quote of the Week

“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.” —Franz Kafka

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