“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why do we buy books and not read them?

The Telegraph asks the question:

What are your abandoned books?

We will get to their article shortly, but why do we do it? I can understand the books that others buy for us , and do so with the best of intentions. I have a couple, one by Michelle Malkin and another by Andrew Sullivan. I will never read either of them. I just do not find anything they have to say that interesting.

Those I can blame on others but there are plenty of books I bought myself and have still not read, many of them are half read. Books I should read, but for one reason or another could not. Some overrated, others passé. I can name them, but am interested in what you have bought and not read. Why do you do it?

Back to the Telegraph article:

The average Briton spends more than £4,000 on books during his or her lifetime but nearly half of them remain unread, a new study claims.

DBC Pierre's Booker Prize-winning novel, 'Vernon God Little', topped the list of unfinished fictional works, followed by the fourth installment of Harry Potter and James Joyce’s notoriously difficult 'Ulysses'.

The research, commissioned by Teletext, also found that more than half of the 4,000 respondents, (55 per cent) admitted they often bought books for decoration and had no intention of actually reading them.

What kind of books do you never seem to finish? How often do you read a novel for pleasure? Are you more likely to get distracted reading fiction or non-fiction? What is the longest period you have ever had a book ‘on the go’ for?

Is there a weighty tome on your bookshelf that you just can’t get through? Do you ever skip the ‘boring bits’ of a book, or worse, have you ever pretended to have read a book you never even started just to impress someone? Which "classics" are you ashamed never to have read?


  1. very interesting blog!

    indeed it's true!!!! why do we buy books and not read them? for me, i can't find the time to read the books. i always tell myself, someday, when i retire, i have all the time to read these books. maybe, i don't know, who knows???

    i'd love to drop by your blog again one of these days. i've linked your page to mine so it'll just be a click away, hope it's ok with you, if not, pls. let me know so i'll take it off. thanks!!

  2. Ingrid, welcome to The Elephant. I have added you to our links.

  3. Ingrid, I will caution you that we have some half empy and half full glass guys in here as well. We also have some broken glasses, bi-foculs and some pieces of a glass menagerie.

    We can use some additional female input and I look forward to your participation.

  4. A loyal follower of The Elephant is Tiger over at Observanda. He posted something that was strikingly different. It is a day in the life of the Tiger man and a worthy read. tiger and the visitors

  5. I read 10-20 books a year until 1995. Then along came the internet. Now I read only 2-3 books a year.

  6. In one of the most anticipated books of the year, Lee Woodruff, along with her husband, Bob Woodruff, share their never-before-told story of romance, resilience, and survival following the tragedy that transformed their lives and gripped a nation.

    In January 2006, the Woodruffs seemed to have it all–a happy marriage and four beautiful children. Lee was a public relations executive and Bob had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

    Then, while Bob was embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were hit, and Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.

    Current New York Times Bestseller

  7. 2164th,

    Thanks for the link to Tiger. Great post.

  8. i'd love to put in whatever 2cents worth of input i'll have.

    hey bobalharb, how did it become a "damn poor way to make an intro"? i didn't even know you have to make an intro around here.

  9. Heads Up
    Michael Yon just sent word that his latest dispatch, entitled "Ernie is Dead," will be published on tomorrow.

    The title intrigued me, so I e-mailed Michael and asked him if "Ernie" referred to legendary World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, and if the dispatch concerned the media's coverage of the Iraq War. The answer to both questions is yes, so this one should be a must-read. Stay tuned.
    Stephen Spruiell

  10. Frankly, every time someone sees the inside of my apartment, they think I'm nuts - which to tell the truth, I might be. The whole thing's littered with books. I started collecting them when I was in my early teens or so.

    The local library had a deal where they gave school kids a 1 pound credit for every half hour you read over the summer. You collect your reward at the end of the summer when they gave away books that they were getting rid of. It ended up with me and 2 of my friends carrying out 200 pounds of old books. In retrospect, the lady in charge had to think I was a fraud.

    Since then I pick up whatever I can at used book sales and the like, never spend more than 3-4 bucks a book. Wind up with real classics. I also recently discovered the used book sellers on

    I've read about half the older books Some of it isn't my fault, as I basically delegated the book selection to the two brothers and wound up with all sorts of stuff, and wound up with some wierd stuff. The new stuff, though, I make a point of reading. Tough work in addition to class stuff (they've got me reading up to 900 pages some weeks). Try to read 1-2 books of my own on the side per week.

  11. ^Which explains my inability to post much lately.

  12. Michael Yon, who's staying just a few tents down from the NBC team in Iraq, sent along this as-yet-unpublished* picture of NBC's Brian Williams, whose reporting on the surge has been quite good. I asked Yon if he had any thoughts resulting from his current embed (and not expressed in his latest dispatch, "Meanwhile") that he'd like to share with the readers of this blog. He emailed the following:

    I would like to say that we have a very solid opportunity to make a success out of Iraq. But we need to allow General Petraeus — the man is brilliant and very experienced — the room to make this happen.

    He's already making progress here. No wise person would argue or interfere with an experienced brain surgeon while that surgeon conducts delicate work.

    Can be a Success

  13. Kissinger attempted to negotiate peace between Israel and its enemies, thereby spinning out a grand illusion—the misnamed “peace process”—that has created a cottage industry for negotiators but an expanded war for the citizens of the region.

    The illusion that “diplomacy” can accomplish anything worthwhile with the Islamic Republic of Iran will only intensify the mullahs’ conviction that killing Americans is both divinely sanctioned and a winning strategy.

    The limitations of this dangerous mindset have recently been described by Mattias Küntzel...

    ...It is eerie to watch Condoleezza Rice evince the same frame of mind today, 28 years later.

    No matter how much evidence of Iran’s determination to destroy or dominate us, no matter how many times Khamenei or Ahmadinejad leads the chant of “Death to America,” no matter how many American fighters and Iraqi citizens are killed as a result of Iranian support for the terrorists, she and the Kissingers of this world continue to convince themselves that things are getting better, that Iran shares our goals for peace in the region, and that if we only make one more generous offer, the whole unpleasant situation will work out for the best.

    It is not so. They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams. Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.

    Ledeen, NRO

  14. Bush Enables Terrorism - C.A.I.R. To Meet At White House

    Tiger posts on the one thing that hasn't changed since 9-11 - our New Age "Christian" President thinking he can divine the Soul out of the Devil with his Sweetness and "Purity."
    (oaths of office don't count)

    What would you say if you knew your President supported groups linked to Terrorism? Well, it's true; and it's been happening for years!

  15. On Monday, Giuliani was endorsed by David Vitter, a conservative Republican senator from Louisiana.

    When a reporter asked Vitter if Giuliani would be a "tough sell" in Louisiana, Vitter replied: "I don't think he is going to be at all, particularly post-Katrina."

    Translation: When the next hurricane hits, people are going to want a president who knows what he is doing rather than a president who believes that abortion is murder.

    Some Republicans will not buy this. Perhaps most of them won't. After all, Republican media wizards have sold them on the opposite message for years. They have said that ideology is what really matters in elections, not competence. Ideology, Republicans have been told in election after election, is what gets people to the polls.

    Giuliani has a different message: He says he knows how to run things. He says he knows how to get the job done. He says America will be attacked by terrorists in the future and it would be a good idea to have a president who can handle that.

    He does not ignore the Republican base. He just asks it to grow up.

  16. The "Bush is Incompetent"
    meme grows.
    With Reason.

  17. One of the more unusual books for me was "Annals of the Former World"
    by John McPhee. It is about geology and won the Pulitzer prize for non-fiction.

    It is a work on the formation of the earth but based on a journey from New Jersey to California.

    Some of the memorable facts were how the prevailing east to west winds slowly eroded the great mountains of the west and deposited the fine sand to become the great western plains.

    I checked to see if Amazon still had some copies and found this review:

    "Mr. McPhee is able to make billions of years come alive and be wonderfully memorable on a sojourn from the Delaware Water Gap to the San Francisco Bay. Who'd have thought that 3,000-mile drive on Interstate 80 could be so interesting? Luckily, he did, and so do many geologists who went along to show him what's out there and where (and when) it came from.

    Jumping from tectonic plate movement, thrusting the Grand Tetons skyward, to a boy's life in the hills of Wyoming makes this large work sweet and palatable to the non-geologist like myself. I shall never traverse the USA again without marveling in the long history, not of a nation, but a planet."

    The book is ultimately about history and our place in the very long line of time. I recommend this book to lovers of landscape and their place in it.

  18. Madness at the Washington Times

    Something has gone badly awry at The Washington Times since editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden Jr. announced his retirement and went on C-SPAN to announce managing editor Fran Coombs as his successor.

    Coombs has gone power-crazy.

    Last week. I received first-hand reports that during the newspaper’s morning news meeting on Thursday, February 22, Coombs threatened foreign editor Jones with physical assault because Coombs wanted a particular story angle attacking the United Nations’ investigation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but Jones corrected Coombs on certain factual errors.
    Coombs has told me and others repeatedly that he favors abortion because he sees it as a way to eliminate black and other minority babies.

  19. I don't read many 'unusual books,' pretty much entirely political/military/history/technothriller.

    Authors I highly suggest: Heinlein (though I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir here) and Jean-Francois Revel. With regard to the latter, I especially suggest How Democracies Perish (a bit outdated, but a fantastic overview of the weaknesses of Western Democratic states vis a vis their enemies).

  20. Deuce,
    Another trip across America, this one focusing on the people.
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America

    William Least Heat-Moon's journey into America began with little more than the need to put home behind him. At a turning point in his life, he packed up a van he called Ghost Dancing and escaped out of himself and into the country.

    The people and the places he discovered on his roundabout 13,000-mile trip down the back roads ("blue highways") and through small, forgotten towns are unexpected, sometimes mysterious, and full of the spark and wonder of ordinary life.

    Robert Penn Warren said, "He has a genius for finding people who have not even found themselves." The power of Heat-Moon's writing and his delight in the overlooked and the unexamined capture a sense of our national destiny, the true American experience.

  21. William Trogdon, who writes under the name of William Least Heat-Moon, was born of English-Irish-Osage ancestry in Kansas City, Missouri.
    He holds a bachelor's degree in photojournalism and a doctorate in English from the University of Missouri.
    He is the author of Blue Highways; Prairyerth, an epic evocation of the American tallgrass prairie country; and the forthcoming River-Horse, an account of his travels along America's interior waterways.

  22. Definitely more distracted reading fiction than non-fiction. I'm currently in the midst of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and taking a long, long time to complete it. Meanwhile, Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation and Tony Judt's Post-War are enticing me to hurry up!

    And yes, blog-reading has been consumed disproportionate amounts of my time since, like, forever.

  23. My points after reading the thread:
    1. WTH has time to read? I used to read like a fiend. Before I got serious about life, I could read the days away. In this "money, money, money" world, who has time to enjoy reading. How many "hooked bloggers" have time to read much of anything else?

    Re: Tiger's Post about his visitors. Why do you suppose we found it to be refreshingly good? I thought so.

    But heck, if I'd a known that was what ya'll wanted, I woulda told you about the Jehovah's Witness who keeps showing up at my door on Saturday mornings. It is my fault though, I was too friendly on the first visit.

  24. I think I can answer you Witt. Tiger told a short story that painted a picture of himself in the story. It was a narrative as opposed to a declaration. As a narrative it was more subtle, nuanced. It was rich and humorous.

  25. lord acton,

    Thanks for the recommendations. And yes, after The Brothers Karamazov, I simply couldn't resist getting another by Dostoevsky.

  26. The Landmark Thuycidides. Started going gung ho over every word, but soon realized what was really captivating were the speeches & debates. I soon found myself picking out these passages and going back aways to scoop up a bit of context.

    Someday I ought to go back and read the whole book, but the point of the post is, alas, I may never get around to doing it.

    I got a Moby Dick automaton version and loaded it to an MP3, which I use in my car. Last summer my son asked whether I had finished listening to it, and I told him no, gasoline has been too expensive lately.

  27. Great thread..We shall return to it...when we get around to it!!