"Reading liberates the reader and transports him from his book to a reading of himself and all of life. It leads him to participate in conversations, and in some cases to arrange them…It could even be said that to publish a book is to insert it into the middle of a conversation."—from So Many Books
Join the conversation! In So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid offers his observations on the literary condition: a highly original analysis of the predicament that readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers find themselves in today—when there are simply more books than any of us can contemplate.
"With cascades of books pouring down on him from every direction, how can the twenty-first-century reader keep his head above water? Gabriel Zaid answers that question in a variety of surprising ways, many of them witty, all of them provocative."—Anne Fadiman, Author of Ex-Libris
"A truly original book about books. Destined to be a classic!"—Enrique Krauze, Author of Mexico: Biography of Power, Editor of Letras Libres
"Gabriel Zaid's small gem of a book manages to be both delectable and useful, like chocolate fortified with vitamins. His rare blend of wisdom and savvy practical sense should make essential and heartening reading for anyone who cares about the future of books and the life of the mind."—Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Author of Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books
"Gabriel Zaid is a marvelously elegant and playful writer—a cosmopolitan critic with sound judgment and a light touch. He is a jewel of Latin American letters, which is no small thing to be. Read him—you'll see."—Paul Berman
"'So many books,' a phrase usually muttered with despair, is transformed into an expression of awe and joy by Gabriel Zaid. Arguing that books are the essential part of the great conversation we call culture and civilization, So Many Books reminds us that reading (and, by extension, writing and publishing) is a business, a vanity, a vocation, an avocation, a moral and political act, a hedonistic pursuit, all of the aforementioned, none of the aforementioned, and is often a miracle."—Doug Dutton
"Zaid traces the preoccupation with reading back through Dr. Johnson, Seneca, and even the Bible ('Of making many books there is no end'). He emerges as a playful celebrant of literary proliferation, noting that there is a new book published every thirty seconds, and optimistically points out that publishers who moan about low sales 'see as a failure what is actually a blessing: The book business, unlike newspapers, films, or television, is viable on a small scale.' Zaid, who claims to own more than ten thousand books, says he has sometimes thought that 'a chastity glove for authors who can't contain themselves' would be a good idea. Nonetheless, he cheerfully opines that 'the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.'"—New Yorker
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"Mr. Zaid's goal is to capture the variety of anxieties that beset literary fame-seekers, and he does so with a mocking cleverness. A serious theme, though, runs through his book—that with the possible exception of a few agonized painters and musicians, no one can quite touch the exquisite torment of the literary artist as he faces the hazards of fate."—Wall Street Journal
In So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid explored the predicament in which all "unrepentant readers" find themselves today, when "the human race publishes a book every thirty seconds"—more books than any of us can even contemplate, much less read.
Now, in The Secret of Fame, this "playful celebrant of literary proliferation" (New Yorker) examines the methods and motivations of literary fame-seekers from ancient times to the present day. He shines a critical, yet humorous, light on today's book world, whose denizens often find it "more interesting to talk about writers than to read them," and he takes a serious look at the desire for fame and the disillusionment that can engulf those who achieve it. Along the way, Zaid pokes fun at literary and scholarly traditions, including the unwritten rules of quoting other authors, the ascendancy of the footnote, and the practice of publishing "foolishly complete works."
More important to Zaid than the fame of a piece of writing or of its writer is the miracle of great writing. "Fame concentrates society's attention on a few names. This can be a good thing. It keeps us reading the great books, keeps us revisiting the great works of art. But fame can also be a bad thing. It keeps us focused on names, not the living experiences of great works," which "focus our minds, speak to the best in us, and spark our imagination." Though the hunger for fame is not going away, the deeper quest on the part of the maker (as writer, artist, actor, etc.) is to make us "feel more alive, more engaged in meaningful conversation with life." He concludes, "Nobody knows where masterpieces come from. Miracles are miracles. They catch us before we catch them. But we’re not trapped by them—we're set free."
Gabriel Zaid's poetry, essays, social and cultural criticism, and business writings have been widely published throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Zaid is the founder and manager of a consulting firm in Mexico City involved with the publishing business.
Natasha Wimmer is an editor and a translator in New York City. Her recent translations include The Savage Detectives and 2666 by Roberto Bolano and The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa.
Este "es un libro alegre, juguetón, por momentos soberbiamente irresponsable, que tiene la capacidad, más bien infrecuente en la literatura de nuestros días, de excitar la inteligencia y provocar carcajadas al mismo tiempo. Zaid ha conseguido sortear los lugares comunes del artículo cultural corriente, y sus ensayos son sistemáticamente anticonvencionales.
[...] Otra virtud que tiene el uso irresponsable (es decir, lúdico) del saber científico en materia de literatura -aparte de producir textos brillantes y divertidos- es que proporciona una especie de alivio. A quienes creen que en esta era de computadoras y robots inteligentísimos la literatura puede desaparecer como quehacer humano al recibir el impacto de la ciencia, los ensayos de Zaid les demuestran que no hay nada que temer. Si la colisión se produce, al menos en este caso, es el supuesto Frankenstein el que se desintegra al tocar la mariposa, es la ciencia la que se vuelve poesía".
Mario Vargas Llosa