Like Simon S, I wasn't expecting quite what I got - I was in HEiotL-withdrawal mode, and was hoping Zaid had written something about his own book collection, and his relationship with it. What he *has* written is actually much more about books as commodities. I suppose this has the bonus that it can't deter anybody with unheard-of tastes and obscure favourites, but equally So Many Books can't rouse my love and affection much.
You can Simon S's thoughts, best bet, because he sums up so well the topics covered in Zaid's book. Zaid looks at the production of books - how people are reached, cost differentials, how it works as a commodity in the marketplace. He compares the book to speech, and wonders how a conversation can be had. He approaches the topics of electronic reader, public library, and ancient manuscript with the same investigative mind, facts falling out of his head onto the page, always keeping his love of reading peeping over the parapet of economics and functionality. And there are occasionally nice little phrases:
And how many college classes are no more than the tortuous reading of a text over the course of a year? Is anything more certain to make a book completely unintelligble than reading it slowly enough? It's like examining a mural from two centimetres away and scanning it at a rate of ten square centimetres every third day for a year, like a short-sighted slug.Well, quite. The point Zaid returns to again and again is, in fact, the title - so many books. If no books were ever published again, it would take me 250,000 years to read all the ones already published. Even reading a list of the titles and authors would take fifteen years. He comes back to this point throughout the book, it seems to haunt his life. But not with the wry smile I expect of a bibliophile, as they cheerfully take Pride and Prejudice off the shelf to read again, but with some sort of panic that he can't get everything into his mind at the same time... it was a bit off-putting, to be honest.
And that sums up my lack of enthusiasm for So Many Books as a whole, actually. If all these topics I've touched on fill you with interest, then this might be the book for you - but I must confess, I found it a little dull. I don't think of books as commodities - I think of them as acquaintances and friends. I love the sort of bookish book which feels the same. And this wasn't it... So, a word of warning - before you spot the title and buy this for all your bibliophile friends, check first to see if they're the sort of person who also thrives on facts, figures, and ref. fig. 1-ing. If not, perhaps I can recommend Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing...