On Browsing Books

Claire Barliant reflects on the art of browsing books, and finding what you didn’t know what you were looking for in a book next to the one you were searching for:

Along with embossed hardcovers or tattered paperbacks, the “book beside the book” will soon seem quaint. You know the feeling: searching for something specific and stumbling on another book you’ve been curious about, then finding yourself, almost involuntarily, leaning against a wall or sinking onto a footstool, happily giving up the next half hour of your life. I’m sure some people think of browsing as an invitation to distraction, but I like to think of it an intellectual stroll. Some paths lead to meaningless cul-de-sacs, others to revelations. The tactile process of pulling out a stack of books and flipping through them is, to me, more stimulating than toggling between the windows open on my Web browser. Even the nomenclature “browser” is worth noting: it removes our agency. The software does the browsing. Not us. Browsing is fundamentally an act of independence, of chasing your own idiosyncratic whims rather than clicking on Facebook links or the books recommended by some greedy algorithm.

In the end, where she wonders “where will we randomly stumble on the knowledge we didn’t even know we wanted to know?” my answer to her is: Reddit.

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