time for a book

I just read Snow Crash for the first time, and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed, but not because I thought the book was trite. It is, after all, a product of its time, and its vision of avatars in the Metaverse has affected the discourse on the way in which we view human-computer interaction. I was disappointed in myself for not having read it earlier, say in high school, when my friend Usama was ranting about what a piece of genius it was.

It’s not the same feeling as wishing you had discovered an author or book earlier. For one thing, I had very strong feelings about when I should have read it. I would have spent more time digesting some of the more tedious connections like “language is a virus” and “the operating system of a society” to understand them. The second difference is that I felt reading it now diminished the book’s power. Not only did I give some of the analogies short shrift, I felt that they detracted from the narrative drive.

This led me to wonder about whether other books have their time and place in people’s lives. The Catcher In The Rye is a good candidate, but what about Lord of The Rings? Are there books that should be read ideally upon reaching middle age? Upon retirement? Reaching college? Losing your virginity? I don’t believe that every book should be associated with a rite of passage or vice-versa. But I do think some books have maximum punch at a certain time in your life, and while you can put yourself in that position again when you read it, it’s not the same as being there.



Lawrence Lessig’s new book, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and Culture and Control Creativity is available for free under a Creative Commons license. Although it’s not unprecedented in the world of academic publishing, this is being done though Penguin Books and is for a (relatively) mass-market book. I, for one, am pretty excited.

Is this going to stop me from going to my local bookstore and browsing a copy on the shelf before deciding to buy it? No. But it allows me to do a pale imitation of skimming a book from my office when I don’t have the luxury of meandering down to the bookstore. I don’t really know anyone who can stand to read a book entirely on a screen (be it CRT, LCD, or plasma), but perhaps I know only the vocal minority. I probably will read the first chapter of his book — more thoughts on that later.