Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hoarding or Collecting?

There is a highly interesting article in the New Republic on collecting books. It is called, "Object Lesson: Why we need physical books." I am not sure the author, William Giraldi, makes his main point, but he makes a number of different points along the way that I find worth considering.

It may well be that "forgoing physicality, readers of e-books defraud themselves of the communion which emerges from that physicality." He thinks that smelly books further that communion. I have always found that this particular physicality is standing in the way of any kind of "communion," but I may well be idiosyncratic here.[1] Mind you, I like--no love--books, but there is nothing wrong with electronic books either. I love them as well. He just seems to think they are very useful when traveling.[1]

But there is one point where I find he is just wrong:
Cram your home with books, and you’re lovingly called a collector; cram it with old newspapers, and you’re derisively called a hoarder. But be honest: The collector is a hoarder, too—a discriminating and noble-minded hoarder, perhaps, but a hoarder just the same.
What is the genus and what is the species? Are all hoarders collectors or are all collectors hoarders? One might be tempted to argue that it's either the one or the other, but I would like to resist that temptation. I would want to argue that a hoarder "collector" in the relevant sense. "Collection" has many meanings, of course. Just think of the "garbage collector," or of the coffee grimes "collecting" in the drain. A "hoarder" is collecting things in that way, but a "collector" of books (or pencils) is discriminating. He selects according to some principle(s) what will become part of his collection and what won't. That this principle is not always conscious presents a problem, and it may lead to the collector becoming a hoarder, but it does not negate the difference. The collector is not a hoarder.

By the way, the same holds for "information" or knowledge. There are those who are or would describe themselves as information hoarders. See here and here, for instance.


1. There are many others, like markings with ball point pens or highlighter, crumbling spines, stains, for instance.
2. "The e-reader is a godsend to those travelers who want to carry all eight volumes of Gibbon with them. (Although you can question if a traveler would really make use of Gibbon’s dreadnought while traipsing through foreign climes."

4 comments:

Angry Thinker said...

Why does it matter in the 1st place what you are called by others? A person who accumulates (to use an alternative term) information or books or stamps or NOTES or whatever else does so because they are interested in it.
There are those who accumulate for the sake of accumulating.
In either case they are happy doing what they are doing & I pity those who worry about what the neighbour thinks about their habit or how that neighbour will classify them.
The collector/hoarder discussion is totally irrelevant to the note-taking issue, I find it a non-value-adding, time wasting discussion. Sorry, nothing personal though.

Unknown said...

I wonder if I curate, collect, or just hoard notes. At different points of my life, I suppose all three.

MK said...

In answer to "unknown:" Me too, but I try not simply to "hoard." It's a meta-concern about note-taking or note-making.

MK said...

I tend to agree that it does not matter what others call you, though Sartre thinks that "hell is other people" and I feel the pull of that claim as well. In other words: What others think can become an influence on you! If only for this reason, it may be important to get clear on the meaning of words--I think.