Excerpt from So Many Books! by Gabriel Zaid, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

So Many Books!

Reading and Publishing in an age of abundance

by Gabriel Zaid

So Many Books! by Gabriel Zaid
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Sep 2003, 160 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

This situation allows us to understand a little-known fact, one of those facts that is hardly ever stated, since it defies conventional wisdom: Most of the titles published in rich countries sell no more than a few thousand copies, just as is true in the rest of the world. How can this be? Isn't there always talk about massive printings? There is talk, and these printings do exist, but they exist side by side with small printings, which are the majority and are never discussed. The true editorial superiority of rich countries lies in their ability to more easily reach a few thousand buyers willing to pay thirty dollars (or much more) for a book of very limited appeal. It lies in the fact that they publish ten times more titles per capita than poorer countries, because they are able to afford the luxury of publishing an infinite variety of titles in small printings.

In many areas, progress destroys diversity. Not so with books. After Gutenberg, mass market journalism, film, television, computing, satellite communications, and the Internet have all appeared. With each new development, the end of the book was prophesied, and each time more books were published, with greater ease and on more diverse subjects. Now, print-on-demand systems make printings of fifty or one hundred copies cost-effective. And what does this mean? It has become possible to publish books that interest no more than fifty or one hundred people. Of course, there will always be some author who, instead of appreciating the benefits of this system, will say, "How is it possible that no more than fifty (or one hundred) copies of my Deconstructive Hermeneutics have been sold! There must be a conspiracy against me. Publishers and booksellers are in it for the money—they only promote books that are easy to sell. How will humanity, numbed by television and consumerism, hermeneutically deconstruct itself? Nothing will change until Everything changes . . ."

But let us suppose that, at last, Everything does change; that the Golden Age is upon us; that a universal library system is established (a great Library of Babel) that holds every book ever published, more than fifty million titles; that every human being is allowed to collect a salary for dedicating himself solely to the reading of books; that, under these conditions, each reader is able to read four books a week, two hundred a year, ten thousand in a half-century. It would be as nothing. If not a single book were published from this moment on, it would still take 250,000 years for us to acquaint ourselves with those books already written. Simply reading a list of them (author and title) would take some fifteen years. When we say that books should be read by everyone, we aren't thinking. Our simple physical limitations make it impossible for us to read 99.9 percent of the books that are written.

Humankind writes more than it can read. If for every book published one or two languish unpublished, then two or three million books are written each year. Xlibris, "a strategic partner of Random House Ventures" specializing in vanity publishing, estimates that for every book published in the United States there are nine unpublished manuscripts (Harper's Magazine, December 2000). And yet a full-time reader can't read more than two hundred, one out of every ten or fifteen thousand.

Would it be desirable for just a few books to be published each year, books that everyone in the world could read? Each of us dreams of having the world's full attention, of everyone else falling silent to hear what we have to say, of everyone else giving up writing in order to read what we have written. There exists a belief that at least a few things should be read by the whole world. But what could be said to everyone? If there were a permanent universal assembly, at which a microphone was passed around so that each person could speak to the crowd, we would scarcely have time to say hello and sit down. The universal dialogue would be reduced to a recognition of the self, a kind of Babelian poem of creation consisting of everyone saying "Good morning" to one another. Maybe that is what life is: We stand up and say hello and then disappear. But it is difficult to accept that idea. In our hello is a yearning for eternity, a yearning that makes us cling fiercely to the microphone and leads to totalitarian communion. Everyone must listen to what I have to say. The never-ending salutation is the expression of a never-ending I, echoing from the center of the universe. It resounds in the speeches of the Führer; in Mao's Little Red Book; in Psalm 49:

Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world:

From So Many Books: Reading & Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Gabriel Zaid, chapter 3, pages 25-33. Copyright Gabriel Zaid 2003. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Paul Dry Books.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Goodbye Days
    Goodbye Days
    by Jeff Zentner
    Guilt can be a heavy burden for anyone to manage, but it's especially difficult for teenagers. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    by Hannah Tinti
    Hannah Tinti follows her spectacular 2008 debut, The Good Thief, with a novel of uncommon ...
  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Polite conversation is rarely either.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -