Sunday, March 06, 2005

How I Find Books To Read, Part 1: The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe

You may be surprised to learn that I discover some of the books I read while weeding the library’s collection. I like to clear our shelves of old out-of-date materials, for we need the space for newer items that will appeal to our readers. While loading a cart with lifeless books, I almost always find some forgotten title that still has a pulse. It may not have been borrowed in two or three years, but I suspect it still has merit. I carry it to the circulation desk and check it out. If I enjoy reading it, I may write a review or put it on book display. If I don’t, it goes onto the next cart headed for the Friends book sale.

That’s how I found The Painted Word, a book about twentieth century art by the prolific critic Tom Wolfe. His thesis in this small, entertaining book is that the theory behind many of the abstract paintings became more interesting than the works themselves. Modern art, which was supposed to rebel against academic painting, became very theoretical and perversely academic. People spent more time reading about the works than actually looking at them. Sometimes, there was not really much to see. Thirty years after its writing, this book is still worth reading.

So, as you read my reviews, you may notice older books occasionally. Perhaps as I age I have more sympathy for older things. The wonderful thing is the older books often tell me something new. Libraries make this possible.

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