Reading through one of my old journals in the quest for a poem that I wrote eighteen to twenty years ago because my nineteen year old son said some things that reminded me of its central metaphor (dissipation of smoke), I stumbled across an entry that contains a list of books purchased, retail outlets, and total price spent over approximately one week. The number of texts acquired in that week seems excessive until I compare in to the number I have acquired in the past week.
One book appears in both lists.
4 January 1990
I've gone hog wild the past few days in purchase of books. In San Francisco, at City Lights Books: Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone, trans. Paul Bowles; at Manzanita Used Books, downstairs from John and Kay*: Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Thought; at the AHA [American Historical Association] conference: Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers; and Robert V. Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson.
On the trip back to Washington at the Trees of Mystery Gift Shop: Marcelle Masson, A Bag of Bones: Legends of the Wintu Indians of Northern California.
Back in Seattle [before the trip back to the eastern part of the state and Washington State University where I was in my first year of PhD work], at Target: Gary Larson, The Prehistory of the Far Side; and Tony Hillerman, A Thief of Time (which I read that night); at Shorey's: Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence; Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men; and Click Relander, Drummers and Dreamers; at Left Bank Books: Louise Erdrich, Jacklight; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century; and Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks; and at the University Book Store: Joseph Epes Brown, The Sacred Pipe; and Claude Levi-Strauss, Triste Tropiques. The total price of these books was approximately $125.00.
Before this list in my journal, I wrote a paragraph that connected a comment in the last book listed to a book by one of my graduate studies professors.
At the end of "Sao Paulo" in Triste Tropiques is a description of attitudes among students at a freshly founded university that would bear juxtaposition with [Albert J.] von Frank's The Sacred Game. Levi-Strauss describes his students as hungry for new ideas to adorn rather than to inform. This hunger for intellectual adornment rather than eagerness to understand the development of the ideas is a form of provincial mentality. However, Levi-Strauss should not be construed as simply claiming that the European scholar's quality of mind is superior. Earlier in his narrative he describes how his own education taught him to reduce all systems to a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis (he does not use these terms).
At the beginning of the long Labor Day weekend, my wife and I went to Best Buy to look at memory chips for my camera and the Nook and Kindle readers. We left the store with none of these, but with two new iPads and some of the gear designed to protect them and enhance their use. Naturally, the iBooks reader was my first download from the App Store. It comes with A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh. I've added thirty-eight more books since then, including (I will not list them all) Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century; Ludvig von Mises, Economic Freedom and Interventionism; John Adams, Revolutionary Writings; Michel de Montaigne, The Essays of Montaigne -- Complete; James Joyce, Ulysses; Ambrose Bierce, Write It Right (I own this in paperback, too); Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (I also have the Library of America hardback edition); Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (I have a newer translation in paperback); William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience; Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room; and Carl L. Becker, The Declaration of Independence (see the list above).
The iBooks reader is one of six book reading and storage apps that I have installed so far. In the Kindle Reader, I have nine full books and three samples in addition to the free dictionary that came with it. These include Memoirs of William T. Sherman (about $2); William Gibson, Zero History (at ~$14, my most expensive purchase out of the approximately $35 that I've spent on books the past week); Greg Gibson, It Takes a Genome; Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species; Karsten Muller, The Chess Cafe Puzzle Book; and the two volumes of Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (another text that I have in paperback).
In the Nook Reader, I have Bram Stoker, Dracula; and Rudyard Kipling, Kim. In other readers, I have such texts as Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations; Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason; Fernando Pessoa, 35 Sonnets; Sun Tzu, The Art of War; James Wilson, Collected Works, vol. 1; Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; and quite a few more.
Are books more expensive now than they were twenty years ago?
In the last days of 1989 and the first few of 1990 I drove from San Francisco to Seattle and managed to acquire fifteen books for $125. In the waning days of summer in 2010, after acquiring a device that cost some $600+ I managed to acquire fifty books or so for less than $40 without leaving my living room.
* John and Kay were friends of one of my professor's that put myself and another graduate student up while we attended an academic conference. It was in their home that I heard for the first time Allen Ginsberg reading Howl on vinyl.
Addendum: my wife reminded me that iBooks comes pre-installed on the iPad.