The Great Circle of Life and Encyclopedia (Thirst to understand everything...)

I read a lot. I don't read many books any more, however. I read 5 news-aggregation sources with scientific, technological and cultural orientation every day. Then I read a lot more about Python, to keep myself up to date when doing consulting/contracting.

Then there's the stuff that I let myself read every once in a while... repositories of public-domain books... interesting people's blogs... groklaw's posting of legal briefs from the SCO case... and... well... geeky as this sounds... an encyclopedia.

When I was a kid I was a voracious reader. We would go to the library, we'd get as many books as we could carry and cart them back to the farm... and long before we could get back to the library I'd have run out of reading material. So, I'd turn to the "old standards", sets of material voluminous enough that I couldn't entirely exhaust them.

There were two huge soft-cover books. The first was 600-some-odd pages of jokes, mostly short, though there were story-based ones as well. Nothing particularly great as jokes went, but fascinating in the patterns of the human mind that they revealed. The second was probably from the same publisher, 600-some-odd pages of (mostly) science-related trivia. Both of these were good ways to kill an afternoon of boredom, but they got stale after a few score of readings.

The one thing that kept working until I was old enough to get access to libraries more frequently was a children's encyclopedia set. It wasn't a great set... in fact, I cringe these days when I see one of them, but it was probably about right for a 6 or 7 year old. I would pick up a letter and read it start to finish, or randomly flip through looking for something to catch my eye. Generally I'd skip the "boring" subjects (mostly geography), only paying attention to them as the set of interesting articles I didn't know began to wane.

Over the years I shifted. I would occasionally devour a textbook, and during my thesis it was hard to draw a line between reading for pleasure and reading for school, but mostly I read fiction for recreational purposes and non-fiction was just for work.

And now I'm back. I've had Wikipedia in my bookmarks for a few years now. I read it every once in a while. I find myself clicking on the bookmark and then hitting "Random Page", looking for something new and interesting to understand. Letting the world bring itself to me one idea at a time, to fit itself into the machine that mediates my understanding of who I am.

I lose track of time; a few hours pass and I suddenly realise I've forgotten to take care of the evening's business; food, for instance. It's a good feeling. I miss immersing myself in ideas and just floating along with them. The life of the mind seems the most sublime of pleasures.


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