Summary and book reviews of So Many Books! by Gabriel Zaid

So Many Books!

Reading and Publishing in an age of abundance

by Gabriel Zaid

So Many Books!
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  • Paperback:
    Sep 2003, 160 pages

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Book Summary

'An appealing, meditative collection of thoughts and observations on the book industry and the state of literature in the early 21st century. Book lovers of all stripes will enjoy this light piece of cultural criticism' -- Publishers Weekly

In So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid offers his thoughts and observations on the literary condition: a highly original analysis of the predicament that readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers find themselves in today--when there are simply more books than any of us can contemplate. In this brief collection of essays, Zaid combines the business savvy of a management consultant, the meditations of a poet, and the sense of humor of an unrepentant reader.

Chapter 3
Complaining About Babel

ALMOST ALL BOOKS sell thousands of copies, not dozens or hundreds of thousands, let alone millions. It is said — unthinkingly — that this is a bad thing.

A film requires hundreds of thousands of viewers to justify the investment. What is the fate of films that could never attract such large audiences? They aren't made. As a result, the number of films produced worldwide is not even 1 percent of the number of books published. If books were to cost as much as films to produce and distribute (as some do, like encyclopedias), an audience of hundreds of thousands would be required—a Hollywood-size audience. And what would happen to the 99 percent of books that could never sell hundreds of thousands of copies? No one would publish them.

Books are so cheap that, unlike newspapers, radio, or television, they can be published advertisement-free for a few thousand interested readers. To finance almost any book, it is enough to find ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is a gem of a book - an absolute must read for anyone in the publishing industry, all book lovers and most importantly, for anyone who aspires to be a writer; and considering that according to a 2000 survey, 81% of Americans feel they should write a book, and 6 million have written manuscripts, that makes for a very broad potential readership - which is ironic considering that one of Zaid's main themes is to argue that the fact that the average book sells copies in the low thousands is a cause for celebration, not dismay! So Many Books is packed with lots of useful statistics about books (not boring tables of data but those wonderful nuggets of information that are so useful to store away for use in conversations to come!), but that's not the key reason to read it. The real reason is to share Zaid's enlightening and enthusiastic perspective of the world of books - all the way from Socrates (who favored conversation over books) to the current day.  

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review, Margo Jefferson

One of the pleasures of So Many Books is that its content and form are perfectly synchronized. Zaid makes his points in a vivid, concise way; his text is a compactly designed 144 pages. Each chapter could be a separate essay, but there is a clear overview; So Many Books is a whole with an air of improvisation. Zaid writes, 'What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.'

The South Coast Beacon, Lauren Roberts

So Many Books (Paul Dry Books) is a small volume with large ideas. Author Gabriel Zaid, well known throughout the Spanish-speaking world, has now, with this translation, been brought to the attention of the English-speaking one. And how fortunate we are to have this original mind sharing its distinctive observations in a compilation of superb essays that explore the relationships among reading, writing and publishing and the outcomes of those relationships for readers.

The Hartford Courant, Carole Goldberg

His short and thoughtful book points out, among many other things, that complaints about overproduction have been going on since Ecclesiastes 1212, which reads in part ... of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The New Yorker, Leo Carey

Zaid traces the preoccupation with reading back through Dr. Johnson, Seneca, and even the Bible (Of making many books there is no end). He emerges as a playful celebrant of literary proliferation, noting that there is a new book published every thirty seconds, and optimistically points out that publishers who moan about low sales see as a failure what is actually a blessing The book business, unlike newspapers, films, or television, is viable on a small scale. Zaid, who claims to own more than ten thousand books, says he has sometimes thought that a chastity glove for authors who can’t contain themselves would be a good idea. Nonetheless, he cheerfully opines that the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.

Anniston Star, Bruce Lowry

Gabriel Zaid concludes that it's not so bad, that the success of Amazon.com, for instance, which he calls concentration bolstered by diversity, is proof that there is still room in the industry for all, the small, obscure titles as well as for the blockbuster best-sellers you purchase at Wal-Mart. He also argues convincingly that the regular print-and-bound format is in no immediate danger from electronic assault.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Wilson

The title of this book is the daily lament of every book-review editor on the planet. Naturally, much of what Mexican poet and essayist Gabriel Zaid has to say in this often witty and always elegantly turned meditation about the ever-rising tide of books - one is published every 30 seconds - will have those same editors shouting hosannas as they read. But some of it will only add to their dismay.

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Chris Watson

Author Gabriel Zaid makes a rather shocking statement in his book, So Many Books Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (Paul Dry Books). He claims that universities have taught students to be more interested in writing books than in reading them and have taught them that books are to be analyzed, not enjoyed. So when the educated want to relax, they read junk not literature - which accounts for a lot of those books on bestseller lists. Zaid writes, The great barrier to the free circulation of books is the mass of privileged citizens who have college degrees but never learned to read properly. Fighting words, sure, but will you argue with them? I won't.

Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI), James A. Cox

An information-packed resource concerning the difficulties of publishing books and getting noticed. Simply put, in today's age there are so many books out there because everyone has a story to tell, few have much time to read. Witty, touching, and insightful into the whys, wherefores, and coping strategies for dealing with this modern-day publishing predicament, So Many Books should be required reading for anyone who aspires to become a published author -- or to publish the work of others.

Publishers Weekly

...an appealing, meditative collection of thoughts and observations on the book industry and the state of literature in the early 21st century. Book lovers of all stripes will enjoy this light piece of cultural criticism.

Booklist, Donna Seaman

Lively, cosmopolitan, and piquant, Zaid's treatise will engage every serious reader.

Author Blurb Paul Berman - author of Terror and Liberalism
Gabriel Zaid is a marvelously elegant and playful writer--a cosmopolitan critic with sound judgment and a light touch.

Author Blurb Enrique Krauze - author of Mexico Biography of Power and editor of
A truly original book about books. Destined to be a classic!

Author Blurb Leon Wieseltier - literary editor of the New Republic
Genuinely exhilarating. . . . wise and . . . delivered with extraordinary lucidity and charm. May So Many Books fall into so many hands.

Author Blurb Lynne Sharon Schwartz - author of Ruined by Reading A Life in Books
Delectable and useful . . . make[s] essential and heartening reading for anyone who cares about the future of books.

Author Blurb Lynne Sharon Schwartz - author of Ruined by Reading A Life in Books
Delectable and useful . . . make[s] essential and heartening reading for anyone who cares about the future of books.

Author Blurb Anne Fadiman - author of Ex Libris
[H]ow can the twenty-first-century reader keep his head above water? Gabriel Zaid answers that question in surprising [and witty] ways.

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