I have this fantasy that it’s possible to know everything. Not just everything in my field, but everything about everything.
When I was small, I loved the library - not for “story time” (my parents read to me at home, and my daddy did all the voices), but for all of those books, with their crinkly plastic covers (protection from grubby little hands), and their wonderful paper-and-glue smell. Nothing will ever replace that smell. (One problem with Kindles and similar devices: they lack that texture, that smell, that weight, that sensory experience that is a “book.”)
I wanted to read all the books. I read all of the “Little House on the Prairie” volumes, and worked my way through all of the other young adult series of the time. I read the encyclopedias from A-Z. And I dreamed of the day when I’d meet my goal of reading all the books, and would therefore know everything.
But the books just keep on coming, and it’s not possible to know it all. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, that I’m not a book of human knowledge. (Scene from The West Wing: Sam asks Ginger, “is there a book of all human knowledge I can just refer to?” Ginger’s answer, “we usually just use Margaret.”)
Sometimes I have to get myself un-stuck, especially when writing. I think I need to read the whole body of knowledge on topic X before I can begin to write about it. Or I feel unworthy to teach my students about topic Y if I’m not an expert in every aspect. That’s when I remind myself: I may not know everything, but I know more than some, and I can share what I do know.
I look around at my piles of books, and I realize: I not only want to read them all, I want to have read them all. To have absorbed them into my brain and psyche. Perhaps my idea of paradise is having unlimited time to read, but then, I wouldn’t get to enjoy any other experiences.
That’s worth thinking about, but right now, I’m getting back to my books. I have a lot of reading to do.