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Does Talking About Books Make Us More Cosmopolitan?

John Vink/Magnum PhotosParis, 1989

What is the deeper purpose, if any, of our disagreements and discussions about books? Why not just accept that I, say, like J.M. Coetzee’s novels and you don’t, or you like Salman Rushdie’s and I don’t. De gustibus non est disputandum. After all, we do not argue with a friend who doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, or who prefers tea to coffee, or gin to whiskey. So what is at stake in the argument about books? And do the stakes change in a period of globalization and growing readership of international literature?

Maybe it will help to go back to basics and recall exactly what a book is. Or even what it isn’t. Is this, for example, a book that we could ever disagree about?

Detail from a page of the Voynich Manuscript, early fifteenth century

There are marks on a page, one of the 240 vellum pages of the so-called Voynich Manuscript, which has been carbon-dated to the early fifteenth century and is presumed to come from Italy. It seems that the marks are letters and that they are arranged in words—all our experience of similar objects invites us to believe so—but no one, since the manuscript’s appearance on the antique book market in 1912, has worked out what language this might be or what the words mean. No one has read it. So is it a book?

We don’t know. Marks on pages are not enough to constitute a book. It could well be a hoax, or something else altogether. Certainly, the Voynich Manuscript is not functioning as a book. For that, it would need a reader. For example, looking at this…

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?????????????????????????Article source: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/03/12/does-talking-about-books-make-us-more-cosmopolitan/

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