culling and surrender

21 Apr

Walk into a local bookstore.Look at the lit journals. Look at how much you’ll never read.

And that’s just lit journals. What about psychology journals? Neuroscience? Media studies? Anthropology? History? What about consumer magazines? What about the great political commentary in Vanity Fair? What about the New Yorker and the Paris Review?

Add books.What about all the novels, biographies, sociological studies, classics, contemporaries, travel writing, music writing, food writing, you’ll never read?

If you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. But Linda Holmes, writing for NPR, has an interesting perspective on this glut of great stuff being created and published:

There are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender. Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It’s the sorting of what’s worth your time and what’s not worth your time.

Surrender, on the other hand, is…the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.”

What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people, in cultural conversations, are far more interested in culling than in surrender. … I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. “Don’t talk about rap; it’s not important. Don’t talk about anyone famous; it isn’t important. And by the way, don’t tell me it is important, because that would mean I’m ignoring something important, and that’s … uncomfortable.” That’s surrender.

I admit I cull too often. But I’m learning to surrender. And here’s maybe the best reason to be ok with that.

Imagine if you really got to all the recordings and books and movies you’re “supposed to see.”

Imagine you got through everybody’s list, until everything you hadn’t read didn’t really need reading. That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze first picked up a violin is so tiny and insignificant that a single human being can gobble all of it in one lifetime.

That would make us failures, I think.


As a postscript, a few of the local lit journals I enjoy. I’m still negotiating our terms of surrender.

Logan Square Literary Review. It’s logo: Vulpes vulpes = The red fox. I have such a fox sitting on my desk, “Le Petit Prince” embroidered on his side.

Artifice. Published by a team who seeks “creative work aware of its own artifice.” Love this: “The things we like, we like more than we can stand.” Also love that it’s about the size of a stack of index cards.

Anobium. Brand new. Name comes from Anobium punctatum = common furniture beetle, which “will tunnel through wood and paper if it is nearby the wood.” i.e. bookworm.

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