Looking for a grand project to jump start my reading habits with a jolt of something new and different, I hit upon the classic idea of one of those “best novels” lists. I figure I won’t actually read the whole thing, but at least I could try new things, classic things, and read a lot more of things I wouldn’t normally find. I struck upon the Modern Library’s Best 100 Novels, and Reader’s Poll 100.
The surprising thing, though, was how very many of these books are available for free, simply because the copyright has expired. If culture means anything, it means that there’s a shared experience or expectation about our lives that needs to be communicated somehow, down to the rest of the culture. If culture means anything, it means that there’s a history of things going backwards and forwards and holding these ideas for others to carry.
I stopped on this idea of what to read if only because it seemed like the easiest way to jolt out of a malaise of browsing the same library shelves too long, and reading the same review websites and twittering authors. I wanted a blast from outside of that zone. There are many ways I could have done this. But, I stopped one step outside, at the Best 100 list, because when I hopped over to Amazon, so much of them were free for my Kindle.
Even the ones that weren’t were so plentiful as to be cheap used. If anything, the popularity and lasting quality of the books in question means that the bar for entry gets very low. By printing so much of them, the used book market is full of them, and the culture barrier for entry drops.
The more culturally important something is, over time, the easier it is to access it. This is a statement that seems obvious, but it isn’t obvious. The bar for entry on new media is comparatively high. That premium is presumably to protect the creator’s right to profit from their work. But, the marketing of that high-bar stuff is that it is culturally important. Yet, often the opposite is true, for most of these high-bar things fade into the flood of words, never even rising up for their month or year to the top of the radar of culture, much less past it’s time. It is culturally-important to protect the copyright and the creator’s rights, I guess. But, culture has its own form of protection, doesn’t it? Relevant things stay relevant. Creating relevant things means culture will take it and make it cheaper somehow.
Anyway, back to reading.