Why Book Readers Make the Best Friends
Plus! More Z-train AI madness!! A Panda Proposal!!!
Welcome to Issue #97 of CAFÉ ANNE!
So much to discuss! Do you remember last spring I ran a Q&A with NYC supermarket/oil refinery billionaire John Catsimatides, whose mother peeled his grapes? “Cats” was back in the news again last week, and for the best possible reason. In a hastily organized press conference, he called on officials to import panda bears from China, explaining that they would save the city.
“New York is in deep doo-doo right now. We need tourism, we need people to come to New York,” he declared at the confab in his Midtown office, sporting a panda tie. “Who doesn’t love pandas? Everybody loves pandas, they’re beautiful.”
“I’ll even pick them up,” he told the New York Post.
I, of course, had to learn about this event by reading the Post. “Why didn’t you invite me to your panda press conference?” I texted him later. “Sorry,” he replied. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Finally, just one new paid subscriber this week, but that makes the very special KateMarie very, very special! Huge Reopening-of-Donut-Pub-on-14th-Street shoutouts to you! That’s enough $$$ for 50 minis!
I’m very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got the results of the CAFÉ ANNE book poll, fantastic AI art outtakes from last issue’s Z-train fiasco and some very intriguing Items of Interest. Please enjoy.
CAFÉ ANNE POLL
Why Book Readers Make the Best Friends
The numbers are tallied and the results are in: CAFÉ ANNE readers are book people!
Last week’s issue included a poll asking subscribers how many books they own. And many, it turns out, have their own mini libraries. According to a recent YouGov survey, a large majority of Americans—68%—own less than 100 books. But this is true of just 23% of CAFÉ ANNE readers.
While just 7% of Americans own more than 500 books, meanwhile, 27% of CAFÉ ANNE readers said their collections surpass this figure. Another 48% said they own 100-500 books—far more than the typical American.
This is somewhat surprising, given the fact that this is not a newsletter about books. In the two years since CAFÉ ANNE launched, in fact, I’ve only written one item about a book—a very goofball summary of Rosemund Bartlett’s super fun biography, “Tolstoy: A Russian Life”.
On the other hand, it’s not a total shocker because I am for sure a book person, and all my closest friends are book readers. No exceptions. We all read a lot of books, and when we get together, we talk about books.
This got me wondering—what do book people have in common, and why do I like them so much?
The first thing I need to acknowledge is that there are plenty of smart, educated, thoughtful, knowledgeable people on this planet who don’t read books. You can even be a big reader—of newspapers, websites and magazines, for example—and not be a book reader. But you’ll probably not be one of my besties.
My running theory is this: book people are folks who enjoy an intense, deep, one-on-one encounter with another mind.
I arrived at this conclusion after considering what movies and TV shows I like. While I prefer books in general, when I do enjoy something on the screen it’s invariably the vision of a single, uncompromising creator with an idiosyncratic point of view.
Examples: Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” anything by Nathan Fielder, the movies of folks like Woody Allen (sorry!) and Wes Anderson who write and direct their creations. While they may need a crew to do what they do, it’s all in service of their personal vision—and everyone else can go to hell. In a good way, of course!
Books, by their very nature, are also the creation of an individual mind. When you crack a book, you’re directly entering the world of another—unfiltered—for anywhere from two to 20 hours.
My preference for intense, direct engagement is also why I typically prefer a one-on-one conversation to a group confab. While there are exceptions for sure, it’s generally the case that the more people involved, the dumber the conversation gets. As the numbers expand, all sorts of factors (jockeying for attention, one-upmanship, desire to please) enter the mix and interfere with a satisfying exchange. People are typically funnier, more honest and more open to exploring ideas when it’s one-on-one.
And the best one-on-one conversations, of course, are with fellow book readers, because they are looking for the same intense adventure of a conversation that I am. Which is why, I’m guessing, my closest peeps are book peeps.
But that’s just my first crack at an explanation. I’d love to hear your ideas. What makes a person a book person? Please respond in the comments or email your thoughts: email@example.com.
Meanwhile, along with the book ownership poll in last week’s issue, I asked readers to share strategies for deciding what books to keep and which to discard—a big concern for us New Yorkers living small apartments with no room for a major library.
Boy, did I get an earful. Many shared accounts of THE BIG PURGE—the time when they had to move, or otherwise start life afresh, and got rid of most of their collection. Books can be a big part of one’s identity, and a purge can be life altering. “It was like giving up my favorite kids. Well, if I had kids,” wrote reader Michael J.
Others bravely admitted that wowing others is often a factor in determining what to toss and what to keep. “I have two categories: nonfiction that is either appropriate for my reference library, or that looks impressive to visitors,” wrote Alaina Z.
Yes! As I replied to Alaina, that’s why I hang on to Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” along with David Foster Wallace’s classic bookshelf space waster “Infinite Jest.” Because lord knows I’ll never finish either!
My favorite response, however, came in an email from reader Dan the Librarian in Upstate New York. Yes, he is professional librarian who has given this topic a lot of thought. With his permission, I’m reproducing most of his message here:
“Librarians will purge books from their library, and they call it weeding the collection. I prefer to refer to the process as pruning. It allows your garden to continue to grow, recognizing the value of the book is still there, just not for your garden. Once you adopt this mindset, it becomes much easier to re-shape your collection.
There are types of books I will classify my collection into:
There are Reference Books. Books I refer to in case of X. A cookbook, or repair manual. I have an Arnold Schwarzenegger book on lifting weights that I refer to all the time. I keep a copy of the Bible because you never know when you will need to look that sort of stuff up. The internet is great for this sort of information, but also horrible.
Core Collection Books. Books that are the core of your existence. I'll never give up my copy of “The World According to Garp” because I've read that book multiple times and love the way it's written.
Interests Collection. I have a large (to me) collection of books on a few topics near and dear to my heart.
How do I prune my collection? I look at how often I've picked up a book in the past x years. Did I read this once and now I'll never read it again? If it's a popular book that I can find easily in a library, it's gone. If it's a book that has personal meaning to me (a gift from my mother, or a book I really enjoyed), I'll hold onto it.
Your book collection is also a look at who you tried to be. Did you try to learn how to be a gardener but failed miserably? That is also a good place to start shaping your collection.”
I asked Dan how he prunes the collection he oversees as a professional librarian, and found this response helpful as well:
“Professionally, I check to see if a book has circulated and how many times has it circulated. I'll also check other libraries local to me or that we have borrowing agreements with before I toss it.
There is the concept of ‘The Last Copy.’ Do I have the last copy in the consortium? If so, I might save it.
I'll also weed the science books quicker for outdated information. Most of the time a science book has outdated information by the time it hits the shelves. In the humanities, we can hold onto things a bit longer.”
Last but not least, Dan gives us all permission to give up our analytic philosophy fantasies:
“Your book collection is a reflection of who you are at the time you share it with others. Are you ready to admit that you cannot wrap your head around Wittgenstein? It's ok. He's not for everyone.”
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More Z Train AI Madness!
Readers who memorize newsletter content will recall that last week’s feature describing my first experience riding the Z train included an alternative ending I generated using ChatGPT after nothing interesting happened on the actual ride. I also asked an AI bot to illustrate that ending based on the following prompt:
“Create a realistic image of happy New Yorkers riding the crowded Z train with a mariachi band and a dancing squirrel and a dancing pigeon.”
The resulting options were all quite wonderful, and I had a hard time deciding which to include. I finally asked my “friend” Aharon to choose one, and his pick generated a lot of discussion.
“AI art is Really Creepy,” wrote reader Beth in Australia. “The numbers of legs and weird hands and strange faces and ... corrupted birds etc. Oh so scary.”
She was right. Looking closely at the illustrations generated by Bing Image Creator, I was seeing lots of melted faces and weird scars. In some instances, the animals were attacking the passengers. “We should enjoy this while it lasts,” I replied, “because soon, AI will NOT be this weird.”
But the most interesting comment came from a reader Vajradarshini who, referring to the missing limb in an AI image I used to illustrate an earlier story, said that she’s noticed that AI is typically bad at rendering hands: “So when I see an image that doesn’t look quite right, I check the hands. If they look weird, it’s probably AI!”
“Now comes the very strange coincidence that it’s exactly the same with lucid dreams,” she continued. “If you’re dreaming and you get a sense something is odd, you can look at your own hands. If they look weird, you realize it’s a dream and can start to direct the dream.”
That got us thinking about the other ways AI illustrations mimic dreams. In both cases, it’s often impossible to read the text on a page or the time on a clock. And then there’s just the general sense of certain details being not quite right.
So now I can’t resist publishing some of the outtakes from last week’s effort to illustrate the Z train story. All the images below were generated by the same prompt as the original. Can you spot the baby with the squirrel tail, the lady fighting off attack pigeons and the raccoon pooping on the businessman’s lap? I did not specify any of that! It’s just what the AI bot saw fit to include. Please enjoy!
ITEMS OF INTEREST
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