Thursday, March 08, 2007

Twenty Years of Learning


This column began March 4, 1987, and has continued as a weekly feature of this newspaper for some 20 years. I'm fairly astonished at that. When it started I was a spry young man in his mid-30s with boundless energy; now, about a thousand columns later, the energy is still there — but it takes twice as long to do anything. Make that three times as long.

Though much of my life is spent using computers these days, I remain a bookish short, enthralled and entranced at some of the things I've read, appalled at others. But I'm not going to name names.

The growth of desktop publishing has meant just about anyone could become a published author. It's easy to get a friend to write a review and post it on, but it remains difficult for local authors to achieve some of the recognition they deserve. Perhaps this column has helped in that regard. One of my great joys is learning that someone bought a book I've reviewed and enjoyed it. One of the great joys of authors is that someone bought the book.

Back in the summer of 1968 I decided to keep a list of every book I read. I was devouring a lot of science fiction in those days, so the first few handwritten pages are full of works such as "A Canticle For Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller Jr. As the years passed my interests broadened to include Saul Bellow, C.S. Lewis, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Dickens. By the end of 1986, when the list ended, I had reached book number 1,016. Some six months later a new kind of list began, this one called the "Biblio File."

I'm missing the first few columns, but the others I do have suggest that back then I was a chatty soul, devoting column inches to local folks who had had letters published in the Wall Street Journal or who had written magazine articles on overcoming addiction. Actual books by local authors were relatively rare, so I took to trying to make a local connection to books from the wider world. "With winds clocked unofficially at more than 100 mph a few weeks ago at the Chico airport — and with the word 'drought' increasingly on our lips — weather is once again in the forefront." That was in March 1988, and I reviewed a couple of weather-related works, including "Rhymes to Predict the Weather" by someone named Don Haggerty.

A year earlier, in a column called "To Squash a Conspiracy," I noted the appearance at Chico State University of an animal rights advocate. Apparently I wandered in on his lecture and asked about, well, vegetable rights. "His face grew pale. A carrot doesn't have a biography, at least that I know of, he said." But later I came across a book that claimed that vegetables feel things in ways we can't understand. I concluded that there is then nothing left for humans to eat and ended that April 1, 1987, column with: "Never again will I trust an artichoke. Never."

As more local books have been published I've put away sophomoric humor. Well, no I haven't, but my focus has been on the books themselves. I hope in most reviews I can convey the main point and give you a feel for the writing. I've learned a lot, and read a lot, and am ready for more. If that potato would just stop eyeing me.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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