Is Every Book Endless?

“What’s your favorite, X?”

This question usually boggles me. I am a creature of wide tastes, so I am often not able to answer these questions. There are three areas where I know what my favorite thing is. People, movies, and books. The people and movies are stories for another time. Books is what occupies our concern for the moment. My favorite book of all is easy to determine, because this particular book is one I have read far more often than any other. Most books that I read get one reading. A handful get two, or three readings. But, with Robert Anton Wilson’s “Cosmic Trigger volume 1“, the number is at least three times as high. Honestly, I have lost track of how many times I have read this book. I know it’s been at least eight times, but it could be as many as twelve, maybe more.

Each time I re-read Cosmic Trigger 1 I not only find something new, I usually find something absolutely mind blowing. What’s more, I often find something that I have no recollection of from my previous readings. It never fails.

I can’t remember who said it (part of my brain thinks it was Umberto Eco, but I am not very sure), but a renowned author was once asked if he thought people should re-read books. His answer, as far as I can recall was, “Yes, I very much do. You can’t learn everything from a book in one reading. Also, and I know this will sound self serving, when you read a book again you should buy a new copy. You don’t want to have all your attention going to the pieces you might have underlined, or the pages you might have dog-eared. You want to come to the book fresh.”

I had already read Cosmic Trigger 1 about four, or maybe six times when I came across the above advice. I decided to give it a whirl. I bought a new copy. In fact I bought two because I currently have two places I live. I have a copy in each, and I have read both at least twice.

I started reading this old friend of a tome again the other day. I was going through the preface (which preceded the “Forewords” and “Introduction” of this particular edition). There was a paragraph that was very familiar to me. The paragraph consisted of three metaphors used to communicate a basic point. The first, and third are metaphors that I grokked a while back. The middle one simply served as a connector. Until the other day. As I sat in my bed reading the familiar words, my brain did a double take, got caught in a loopty-loop, and then exploded. A whole new level of comprehension was added to the whole of the book. Like most deep realizations it’s bound to be banal to others, so I won’t go into it here. The content of the realization is beside the point. The salient fact that hit me came when I got up stunned, and walked slowly across the room to stare at one of the overflowing book shelves in my studio apartment.

If I can find mind-blowing distinctions in a book I have already read 8, or more, times what’s the limit? Will there come a day when I stop finding them? Will it take twenty readings? Thirty? More? What’s the limit of a book? These questions flashed through my mind as I stood staring at my overflowing shelf. If that was true of one book, could it be true of the others? The idea that every book on my shelf might be nearly endless filled me with horror. I’ve already faced the fact that one lifetime is not enough to read all the books I want to read, but what if the truth is that there is not even enough time in one life to really read one book…


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