bookish pursuits

I love books. It took many years to break a habit of compulsive collectivitis – I could never walk into a bookshop and walk out without purchasing a book. Even though I read far fewer books than I used to, for several years I continued to buy at the same rate. When I was living at my mother’s house, I had a bookcase devoted solely to books waiting to be read. So too, I like completing sets and generally seeking out all books by authors that appeal; I also like hardcovers and nicely bound editions. I’m fond of leather, rice paper, and slipcases. Quality binding is a thing to be admired. There is an argument that can be made for buying less books but of a higher quality, though it’s one I’d prefer not to make given my addiction.

It is with such thoughts in mind that I have chanced upon mentions of an esoteric tome, published nearly 30 years ago, the Codex Seraphinianus. This strikes me as a fascinating thing, full of mystery and beauty. Indecipherable yet intriguing. Various editions have been published ranging in value from 100 or so euros through to US$4,000 for one of the original editions. Much has been written on it, and it appears that many, if not all its pages have been scanned and loaded into flickr. [update: it seems to have been removed from public viewing] Once one starts such explorations there seems to be no end, further study revealed a much older book, also impenetrable, the Voynich manuscript.

yet another book

While discussing some of my HPS interests with my boss, she suggested I try reading some Stephenson, particularly his Baroque Cycle. To date, I’d only read Snow Crash, though I liked the ideas and the story, at times it seemed to read too much like a movie script for my liking. Based on my boss’s comments, as well as some quick googling, I went ahead and bought Quicksilver, the first in the series. I’m about 60 pages in, appreciating the steady pace, and looking forward to the remaining 900 odd pages of this, the first volume. I’ve barely scratched the surface but already liking the feel of it.

the back

Given my back pains of last week, I have been trying to keep away from the computer as much as possible. Additionally I sought my GP’s advice last week. Most of my computer workspaces are ok, though I’ve been a little slack in recent times, particularly with regard to sitting upright and facing the computer directly. I’ve made a few changes, though I’m waiting for a new chair at work, plus the GP recommended I take up Pilates. My back, while not 100%, is substantially improved over the agony of last week. Interestingly, while I was at the GP, I finally got to see the results of the spinal x-rays I had done in April (never quite got round to getting the verdict). I’d had a nasty fall down some steps in Northern Greece leaving me with a rather sore upper back. That’s all good now but the April x-rays revealed:

“There is anterior loss in height of an upper thoraic vertebral body, approximately T4. There is also a sclerotic line traversing the upper body of this vertabra, and the findings suggest an impacted mild compression fracture, probably involving the superior endplates.”

My doctor thinks that will have healed properly of its own accord; my description of the pain lessening over a couple of months and disappearing altogether, was consistent with healing expectations for this sort of injury. I’m sorta glad I didn’t get the verdict at the time, but wish I had, in case it had been more serious.

memories

Many moons ago I was at uni; it’s actually been around 9 years since I last studied anything in that sort of context. This will amaze most who have known me over a decade as I spent around 12 years at uni altogether. Most of it on a BA, followed by a Master’s of Information Management (Librarianship) to commemorate my 10th year of uni. I got into Honours in History & Philosophy of Science (HPS – one of 3 majors – it helps justify how long I was at uni – the other 2 being Computer Science and Philosophy) and promptly burnt out halfway through.

Throughout it all, like many students I reckon, I made lots of photocopies. Sure, I tried to abide by copyright as best I could, only doing 10% of whatever, or sticking strictly to the reading list, which occasionally took me over the 10% barrier. And, in a couple of instances, I’ve even photocopied whole books. I did feel a little guilty at the time, and justified it somewhat by the idea that when I had a decent job with a reasonable salary, I’d buy some of those books, I copied so religiously, or felt influenced by. Honest guv.

Funnily enough, I have occasionally grabbed titles as I saw them over the years. In particular when browsing a quality second hand store (Cornstalk) in Newtown a few years ago with Dad, I came across Brian Easlea’s “Witch hunting, magic, and the new philosophy : an introduction to debates of the scientific revolution, 1450-1750“. Actually, that’s not quite true, Dad had picked it up and commented that this looked interesting, I turned, read the cover, recognised it as the tome for which I’d long been searching, and instinctively ripped it out of his hands – he was a little shocked to say the least. This was one of the major texts when I was studying HPS and part of a short list of titles that I absolutely, at all costs, had to have. I didn’t photocopy all of it but I reckon I wasn’t far short.

One title I did photocopy in full was Paul Feyerabend’s “Science in a Free Society“. I remember reading bits of Feyerabend and thinking, this is the stuff that is most in tune with what I’ve been looking for. Part philosophy, part shit stirrer, Feyerabend seemed to be someone who had genuine fun with ideas and tearing down ivory towers. He appealed to the cynic in me, the person looking to understand science beyond some clinical separation, trying to work out how it fitted into society. It was radical and anarchic and for Feyerabend, often misunderstood, he seemed to be more about creating circuit breakers so that folk could think freely rather than destroying institutions altogether. This one book I have long sought, I spied it once at a massive bookshop in Cambridge in 1999, but failed to buy it as I was trying to save my pennies. Never seen it since. I’ve occasionally seen it available secondhand online but never got round to ordering it. I no longer need to. My lovely girlfriend entered the chase, engaged in the hunt, and procured a first edition (1978) for my birthday. It’s in really good nick and we reckon it’s probably sat on an academic’s shelf for much of the time. I’m rather staggered that it’s in my collection at last, and can’t quite believe it’s real.