My Canon In That LibraryThing

by Kiko Matsing

I spent Sunday, avoiding reading articles on cell mechanics, and scheming of ways to indent and shear (i.e. poke and rub) cells with an AFM (atomic force microscope) colloidal probe. I did something totally useless instead: I organized my blogroll. It seemed that having set up all these fancy-schmancy categories for my links to other blogsites, consigns me to provide it with such links. I am not a regular reader of blogs myself–I would rather read books–which begs a Carrie Bradshaw question (show “blinking cursor” as I type here): do I really expect other people to also waste their time on my blog? I do hope it provides more than just a self-reflecting mirror on the ho-hum of my life.

I thus had to scour the Internet, or in this case, the Blogosphere, for blogs I can endorse on my blogroll (whew, that was a mouthful of “blogs”!); they would have to be only of potential interest at this point. It remains to be seen if they are worth coming back to, that is, as critic Frank Kermode puts it, if they continue to hold our attention. What a thrilling way to procrastinate for someone who’s obsessive-compulsive. Scour is exactly the right word. The result: the long list on the sidebar of “[who] I found blogging on: food; writers and writing; art and design; current events, politics, opinion; history, culture, ideas; science and technology; travel”. Click on.

Kermode, of course, was referring to canonical works of literature, not a laundry list of links. A canon, however, he points out, is in essence simply a list, for example, of what books to include in the Old and New Testaments, or the roster of Saints, or the Great Books, or even a reading list for a Lit 101 class. In the last two, we privilege the works on the list because they continue hold our attention, or they continue to speak to us. “[The] canonical work, so endlessly discussed, must be assumed to have permanent value and, which is really the same thing, perpetual modernity.” (from Forms of Attention, 1987) Adding a link to a blogroll is certainly not as magisterial as “canonizing” it, but we always make canons, or at least legitimize them, whenever we make decisions to include or to discard. I learned that when somebody clicks a link from my site, some number-crunching software counts it as a vote for the linked site. The number of unique visits or hits indicate a site’s relevance, and, thus, improves its overall ranking and status in the Blogosphere. I wonder how “canonical” Thoreau and Whitman would be in this sense who maintain bogus blogs at The Blog of Henry David Thoreau and I, Walt Whitman, A Blogger. Let’s see how they fare without the imprimatur of a course requirement. I’d hate to be trumped by dead old farts.

Speaking of old farts, a note on the phrase fancy-schmancy, which a blogger posted on The Phrase Finder, observing that it is usually spoken in movies by old Jewish men. According to the book The Joys of Yiddish (by Leo Rosten), quoth the blogger, “sh [or] shm [are] not words, but prefatory sounds, of mockery or dismissal, that ‘pooh-pooh’ the word they prefix… To negate or deride the meaning of a word, the word is repeated–but with shm- prefixed to the repetition. ‘The doctor says she has a serious virus? Virus-shmirus, as long as she’s OK.’ (This is, of course, a variation of the classic ‘cancer-shmancer, as long as you’re healthy.’) ‘The mayor? Mayor-shmayor, it’s his wife who runs the show.'” What a cool rhetorical device for subversion. Canon, shmanon.

I saw the “random books from my library”-widget in one of my friends’ blogsites (Peryodistang Pinay), and thought that was a really neat idea. It displayed random books from her collection–titles, authors, and covers–that had been cataloged in LibraryThing. You guessed it. It did not take long before I got the itch to inventory my entire collection–well, at least two-thirds of it that I hauled with me to Florida. LibraryThing allows you to quickly enter your books by searching, the Library of Congress, or more than 250 other library databases around the world, using key words (title, author), or, better yet, their ISBN numbers. I thought I died and gone to OCD heaven! It’s also a cinch to assign cover images to your book using existing links to images, or upload your own if you’re like me who wants the exact same cover as what is on the real thing. When I finished archiving the facts and figures of my own canon, it crunched the data, and spit out a list in “Members with your books”. Apparently, I shared the same reading taste as one asongulol (crazy dog, i.e. with rabies) who also likes reading Borges, Calvino, Cortazar, Pavic, and Pessoa, among others. Running down the list of books we own together–26 of my books are in his collection of 285–I wondered if this information can be used like a genetic map to mark individuals. What are the odds that another person owns exactly the same set of books? Isn’t our library a historical sum of small choices and chance encounters, of contingencies and inevitabilities, not unlike our own lives?

Scroll down the sidebar. Check out my canon in that LibraryThing.