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The Unread: You’ll never read every book; perhaps that should be cause for hope Recently, I began to read Moby-Dick for the first time. I was inspired to take Melville’s 1851 classic novel off the shelf, in part, by the fact that three related books had come across my desk in short succession: Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding; Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick in Pictures; and Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick?Why read Moby-Dick, indeed? I’d lived 30 years without reading a page of Captain Ahab’s crazed pursuit of the great white and the world had not come off its axis. Still, I felt there was a gap the size of a sperm whale on my personal reading list. So, midway through my interview with Kish, I blurted out that I intended to finish Moby-Dick by the end of the year. I’d made a similar promise a few weeks earlier, while talking to Harbach, but had yet to even find the book on my shelves. This vow to Kish, who had just finished a project that saw him complete one painting for every page of the book, was like signing a contract with myself.“I have a very small library upstairs, and I often say one day maybe I’ll read all the books I have,” George Jonas told me during a recent interview. “We’re not scratching the surface of what’s worth reading, [even] in one language …”It’s true. There are scores of books I have not read, and it saddens me to think that I will never read most of them. I have not read War and Peace, nor Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment or pretty much any of the Russians. I have read Pride and Prejudice, but that’s it for Austen. I’ve read To The Lighthouse, but not Mrs. Dalloway, though I have seen The Hours (but I haven’t read that, either). I’ve read Dubliners (well, most of it) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but haven’t even attempted Ulysses and was scared off by the first page of Finnegans Wake. The only Brontë sister I’ve read is Emily. I have all of Roth and Bellow and most of Updike to look forward to. I’m embarrassed to reveal how little Atwood and Munro I’ve consumed. If any of these books come up in conversation, I’ll offer a polite smile and quickly change the subject. (Illustration by Clayton Hanmer)

nparts:

The Unread: You’ll never read every book; perhaps that should be cause for hope
Recently, I began to read Moby-Dick for the first time. I was inspired to take Melville’s 1851 classic novel off the shelf, in part, by the fact that three related books had come across my desk in short succession: Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding; Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick in Pictures; and Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick?

Why read Moby-Dick, indeed? I’d lived 30 years without reading a page of Captain Ahab’s crazed pursuit of the great white and the world had not come off its axis. Still, I felt there was a gap the size of a sperm whale on my personal reading list. So, midway through my interview with Kish, I blurted out that I intended to finish Moby-Dick by the end of the year. I’d made a similar promise a few weeks earlier, while talking to Harbach, but had yet to even find the book on my shelves. This vow to Kish, who had just finished a project that saw him complete one painting for every page of the book, was like signing a contract with myself.

“I have a very small library upstairs, and I often say one day maybe I’ll read all the books I have,” George Jonas told me during a recent interview. “We’re not scratching the surface of what’s worth reading, [even] in one language …”

It’s true. There are scores of books I have not read, and it saddens me to think that I will never read most of them. I have not read War and Peace, nor Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment or pretty much any of the Russians. I have read Pride and Prejudice, but that’s it for Austen. I’ve read To The Lighthouse, but not Mrs. Dalloway, though I have seen The Hours (but I haven’t read that, either). I’ve read Dubliners (well, most of it) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but haven’t even attempted Ulysses and was scared off by the first page of Finnegans Wake. The only Brontë sister I’ve read is Emily. I have all of Roth and Bellow and most of Updike to look forward to. I’m embarrassed to reveal how little Atwood and Munro I’ve consumed. If any of these books come up in conversation, I’ll offer a polite smile and quickly change the subject. (Illustration by Clayton Hanmer)

Bringing paranoia to the digital massesExcerpt, part 2 of 4: In a new book on conspiracy theories, Jonathan Kay explains how the Internets has become an echo chamber for fringe fearmongers.The Internet has produced a radical democratization of the conspiracist marketplace of ideas. No longer does one have to spend years researching and writing a book to attract attention: One can simply set up a blog, or chime in on someone else’s, with some refinement of the existing collective lore. In fact, today’s conspiracists don’t even have to read books — they can pick up all their talking points from Truther websites, or, better yet, from Truther propaganda videos. Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Augustin Barruel’s 1798-99 classic conspiracist opus about the French Revolution, ran for thousands of pages, and took weeks to read. The Warren Commission report ran to 26 volumes. Watching the latest edition of Loose Change, on the other hand, takes about an hour and a half.Part 1: The enduring influence of The Protocols of ZionPhoto: The re-assembled shell of TWA flight 800 inside a hangar at the National Transportation Safety Board training facility, July 16, 2008 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Bringing paranoia to the digital masses
Excerpt, part 2 of 4: In a new book on conspiracy theories, Jonathan Kay explains how the Internets has become an echo chamber for fringe fearmongers.

The Internet has produced a radical democratization of the conspiracist marketplace of ideas. No longer does one have to spend years researching and writing a book to attract attention: One can simply set up a blog, or chime in on someone else’s, with some refinement of the existing collective lore. In fact, today’s conspiracists don’t even have to read books — they can pick up all their talking points from Truther websites, or, better yet, from Truther propaganda videos. Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Augustin Barruel’s 1798-99 classic conspiracist opus about the French Revolution, ran for thousands of pages, and took weeks to read. The Warren Commission report ran to 26 volumes. Watching the latest edition of Loose Change, on the other hand, takes about an hour and a half.

Part 1: The enduring influence of The Protocols of Zion

Photo: The re-assembled shell of TWA flight 800 inside a hangar at the National Transportation Safety Board training facility, July 16, 2008 in Ashburn, Virginia. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The enduring influence of The Protocols of ZionBook excerpt: In a new book about the origins of conspiracy theories, Jonathan Kay argues that the malign influences of The Protocols of Zion is still with us. In August, 1897, Theodor Herzl and two hundred fellow activists convened at a concert hall in Basel, Switzerland, to attend the First Zionist Congress. The capstone of their deliberations was The Basel Program, a landmark manifesto aimed at “establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” The delegates also officially adopted the Hatikvah, a song that, six decades later, would become the national anthem for the country we call Israel.But as legend has it, it was all an elaborate act — just a respectable set-piece to divert gentile journalists and spies from the real meeting taking place at a secret location nearby. There, Herzl delivered a clandestine 24-part lecture series for Jewish ears only. In these speeches, “protocols” as Herzl called them, there was little talk of carving a small country out of the Middle Eastern desert. What he proposed was nothing less than a plan for total world domination.
Europe’s gentiles — or goyim, as they were described in Yiddish — generally were a happy, earnest lot, Herzl told his audience. They worked their farms and small businesses assiduously, prayed to a benevolent Christian God, and prospered under the kindly, lawful aristocrats who rose up from among their ranks.But they were also gullible, lustful, greedy and unstable in their attitudes — human frailties that the calculating, ascetic Jew could exploit in order to rob them of their entitlements.— Part one of four from Among the Truthers by Jonathan Kay. Read the rest of the excerpt.

The enduring influence of The Protocols of Zion
Book excerpt: In a new book about the origins of conspiracy theories, Jonathan Kay argues that the malign influences of The Protocols of Zion is still with us.

In August, 1897, Theodor Herzl and two hundred fellow activists convened at a concert hall in Basel, Switzerland, to attend the First Zionist Congress. The capstone of their deliberations was The Basel Program, a landmark manifesto aimed at “establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” The delegates also officially adopted the Hatikvah, a song that, six decades later, would become the national anthem for the country we call Israel.

But as legend has it, it was all an elaborate act — just a respectable set-piece to divert gentile journalists and spies from the real meeting taking place at a secret location nearby. There, Herzl delivered a clandestine 24-part lecture series for Jewish ears only. In these speeches, “protocols” as Herzl called them, there was little talk of carving a small country out of the Middle Eastern desert. What he proposed was nothing less than a plan for total world domination.

Europe’s gentiles — or goyim, as they were described in Yiddish — generally were a happy, earnest lot, Herzl told his audience. They worked their farms and small businesses assiduously, prayed to a benevolent Christian God, and prospered under the kindly, lawful aristocrats who rose up from among their ranks.

But they were also gullible, lustful, greedy and unstable in their attitudes — human frailties that the calculating, ascetic Jew could exploit in order to rob them of their entitlements.

— Part one of four from Among the Truthers by Jonathan Kay. Read the rest of the excerpt.

How Shakespeare Changed EverythingIn his new book  Stephen Marche credits The Bard with inventing skull style:Hamlet doesn’t just think about death or obsess about his own mortality. He is not at all the morbid type, a proto-vampire, a goth avant le lettre. He looks at Yorick’s skull and sees two separate truths, neither of which he can escape. Death casts a pall over the feast of life and death nourishes life. Does the skull mean we should abstain from the pleasure of the flesh? Or rather should the lesson of the skull be eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow we shall die? Hamlet is melancholy and jokey at the same time because he feels both these contradictory truths simultaneously.The skulls in the food court at the mall have the same two-faced glamour. They adorn the everyday objects of urban and suburban America to give a pretense of depth, spreading a radiant materialism, a daring superficiality that recognizes death but nonetheless wants a new iPhone and Prada sunglasses and blue jeans in the latest style. Look around an Urban Outfitters: Shakespeare is current up to the second. He means now. Hamlet in the graveyard scene arrives at the decadent materialism of the mall, the flouting of the authenticity of death. Hamlet’s father haunts the ancient battlements of Elsinore. Hamlet haunts the food court. (Illustration by Steve Murray)

How Shakespeare Changed Everything
In his new book Stephen Marche credits The Bard with inventing skull style:

Hamlet doesn’t just think about death or obsess about his own mortality. He is not at all the morbid type, a proto-vampire, a goth avant le lettre. He looks at Yorick’s skull and sees two separate truths, neither of which he can escape. Death casts a pall over the feast of life and death nourishes life. Does the skull mean we should abstain from the pleasure of the flesh? Or rather should the lesson of the skull be eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow we shall die? Hamlet is melancholy and jokey at the same time because he feels both these contradictory truths simultaneously.

The skulls in the food court at the mall have the same two-faced glamour. They adorn the everyday objects of urban and suburban America to give a pretense of depth, spreading a radiant materialism, a daring superficiality that recognizes death but nonetheless wants a new iPhone and Prada sunglasses and blue jeans in the latest style. Look around an Urban Outfitters: Shakespeare is current up to the second. He means now. Hamlet in the graveyard scene arrives at the decadent materialism of the mall, the flouting of the authenticity of death. Hamlet’s father haunts the ancient battlements of Elsinore. Hamlet haunts the food court.

(Illustration by Steve Murray)

Confessions of a book hoarderThe first thing people usually say to me, upon entering my home for the first time, is that I own a lot of books. They are wrong, of course. I am rather ashamed at the size of my collection, considering I studied English literature in university and now pretty much write about books for a living. Between my girlfriend and I, there are probably between 1,000 and 1,250 books in our apartment, a number I consider rather paltry. Ideally, I’d like to double that number once we buy our first home — we currently rent — and I’m no longer faced with the prospect of hauling countless boxes of books between addresses.I’d last attempted to cull my collection about a year ago, when I carried about 50 books from my shelves to a spare room in the basement; I intended to get rid of them, but they, of course, went nowhere. This time, I hoped to rid myself of a quarter of my books. Nothing so ridiculous happened, of course, but the fact that I found about a half dozen copies of Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce — which I still have not read — and four copies of Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel French Milk — ditto — was proof enough that my addiction had crossed the line into a dark, uncharted area, where intervention may be necessary. I thought it was also fitting that I found both of my e-readers gathering dust under piles of books.• Are you a book hoarder? Proud of it? Send your stories to mmedley@nationalpost.com

Confessions of a book hoarder
The first thing people usually say to me, upon entering my home for the first time, is that I own a lot of books. They are wrong, of course. I am rather ashamed at the size of my collection, considering I studied English literature in university and now pretty much write about books for a living. Between my girlfriend and I, there are probably between 1,000 and 1,250 books in our apartment, a number I consider rather paltry. Ideally, I’d like to double that number once we buy our first home — we currently rent — and I’m no longer faced with the prospect of hauling countless boxes of books between addresses.

I’d last attempted to cull my collection about a year ago, when I carried about 50 books from my shelves to a spare room in the basement; I intended to get rid of them, but they, of course, went nowhere. This time, I hoped to rid myself of a quarter of my books. Nothing so ridiculous happened, of course, but the fact that I found about a half dozen copies of Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce — which I still have not read — and four copies of Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel French Milk — ditto — was proof enough that my addiction had crossed the line into a dark, uncharted area, where intervention may be necessary. I thought it was also fitting that I found both of my e-readers gathering dust under piles of books.

• Are you a book hoarder? Proud of it? Send your stories to mmedley@nationalpost.com