I love wandering used bookstores, as there is always a magic tome back there, lying in waiting under layers of dust, that when found will blow my mind. There is a lack of pretension in old books that amps up their power in ways no NYTimes bestseller can ever match.
Nearly a decade ago I found a copy of Loren Eisley’s The Night Country: Reflections of a bone-hunting man, in a $1 stack. I had no idea who he was or what he was writing about, but the strange title and stranger cover drew me in. He’s an amazing writer. And he was one of the first to put my faith in writers who can transcend topics and genres and simply blow my mind with thoughts and words. You could have put Eisley in a cardboard box for an hour, and he’d have an essay that would change your mind about something important you’ve never even thought about before.
Another great find in the dark back used book racks was the Encyclopedia of Ignorance (EOI). Finally a tome about the infinity of things we do not know, that are never represented in books! A piece of my sanity was restored in this book, as I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling that we know much less about the universe and everything than we pretend we do.
Over on Kottke today, is mention of Wikipedia’s version of the EOI: The list of unsolved problems. This is great, except…it’s tiny! Ridiculously small! I’m hoping wikipedians will pick up the slack, but right now the EOI is my go to resource for things I don’t know.