Forced Serendipity

I’ve embarked on a new project, or perhaps endeavor is a better word. At home, Iusually juggle a few books plus a couple magazines at any given time. During the run up to the opening of Hunt, plus my new responsibilities at the D.H. Hill Library, I found that I didn’t have the mental space for new, challenging reading in the few minutes of idle time I wrested away between working and sleeping. Instead, I reread Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle for the 3rd or 4th time, wrapping myself in the comfort of 3000+ pages of marvelous writing and quasi-history. I finished that series with perhaps six weeks to go till the soft open, so I naturally moved on to Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which is much of the same, then during the crunch of the final weeks, Reamde, a less satisfying work but an enjoyable, easily digested modern techno-thriller.

With Hunt open, things are still busy in our department but the suffocating pressure has palpably lifted for those of us at Hill. I’ve been enjoying some leisure again, to my relief. And as part of that, I’m reading new stuff again. Which brings me to my new endeavor. I’ve decided to take advantage of working in a building with nine floors filled with books. I plan to work my way through the stacks, choosing books with no rules except that I will keep moving forward through the LC ranges and I’ll take the first title that catches my eye.This week, I started in the far Southeast corner of the 2nd Floor and found myself looking at works on magic and mysticism. I choose Hermeticism and the Renaissance, by Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, a conference publication from 1988. Wouldn’t you know it, within the first few pages of the introduction, mention was made of Sir Isaac Newton’s pursuit of alchemical knowledge, a prominent theme in The Baroque Cycle.

I’ll update my progress and review titles on Goodreads, as I usually do. I may also post updates here, if the mood strikes me.

I tend to be skeptical of librarians and academics who gush about “serendipitous discovery” and bemoan the loss of traditional bookstacks, but it’s not because I think collocating physical items adds no value. Moving to a virtual browse environment does mean losing some real value but I think many critics miss that it’s a trade-off. You sacrifice some to gain some. Physical collocation can’t hold a candle to on demand, infinite virtual rearrangement. But I can still enjoy wandering the open stacks, while they yet exist.


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