Teaser Tuesday: A Universal History of the Destruction of Books

Like getting that last punch in your free coffee card, the Wheel of Time has turned ’round to Teaser Tuesday.Just in case you don’t know, Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Books and a Beat. Anyone can play along! All you have to do is grab the book you’re currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences from that page. But make sure you don’t share any spoilers!*

*I wish I could take credit for this introduction, but I shamelessly stole it from Heather over at bitsnbooks. To help me make amends, you should go check out her blog.

This week I’m reading A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Báez (translated by Alfred MaAdam). This book was sent to me several weeks ago but only just arrived last week; it spent a mysterious nine days in a postal facility a mere 161 miles from my house. After these nine days, it only took two days to arrive at my door.

The Truly Random Number Generator sends us to page 296:

There came a moment when not a single library existed in Europe. Amianus Marcelinus, around the fourth century CE, was the privileged witness who wrote "The libraries are locked up like tombs, in perpetuity." 

History of Destruction of Books cover

In Retrospect

At the Existentialist Cafe

At the Existentialist Cafe presents the main actors of the French New Existentialists in such a way as to make them accessible, much like meeting them at the titular cafe. We learn their backgrounds, relationships, and main talking points. The philosophers often switch tables, whether through a falling out with a friend, a change in personal philosophy, or geographic relocation. And so, over several cups of tea (or coffee, or one’s preferred beverage) we are given a brief history of 21st-century existentialism.

Like dining at a cafe, some companions are more interesting than others, and they are almost always more intriguing when more than one sits at the table with you. The slowest parts of the book are those which, for one reason or another, deal only with one particular person.

Fallings out there may be, but everyone is given a say – even Heidegger. However, if one is expecting appearances by Nietzsche or Kierkegaard, they are mentioned only in passing; perhaps they failed to make a reservation?

The book is deep at times, but overall is a lighter philosophical read. Those used to reading philosophical texts may not be challenged enough while those just dabbling in the study may at times ask themselves “what have I gotten into?”.

Like any good dining experience, the Existentialist Cafe left me wanting more (and contributed to the expansion of my to-be-read list). Given that (in my opinion) the Cafe lived up to the hype, why did I not give it 5 stars? To me, a five-star book is one that leaves a person poorer for having not read it. While the Cafe gives us many short biographies of the existentialists, the biographies add nothing new to those familiar with the key actors. In addition, there are some questionable choices when it comes to language of use – the text at times swings between lower academic and informal patterns. I know this is entirely subjective, but it is my opinion. Finally, there were a few dry segments occurring – for better or worse – at junctures in the book that made me want to walk away for a bit. This I could not do, having borrowed the book from the library.

That said, I would purchase this book for my own library as I am not a professional philosopher and could see this being used as a refresher or general overview of 21st-century existentialism. I would also recommend it to those who desire an introductory text to the philosophy.

4 Stars

2 thoughts on “Teaser Tuesday: A Universal History of the Destruction of Books

    1. So far it’s good. I can tell it’s a translation, but I’m not sure if that’s the author or translator’s fault.
      I’m finding it more “encyclopedic” than “story” but that’s OK with me.


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