An infinite number of books

Screenshot anime Minami-ke, Kana and Chiaki

In regard to how stupid you are, I’ve compiled a ten thousand word report.

 In truth, an infinite number of books could be written on how stupid I am. And on many other topics as well.

I recently bought a book called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. I may review it at some future time, probably at least somewhat favorably. But I have only read 18% of it yet. That is because I stopped at this quote by Neil Gaiman: “I would read other books, of course, but in my heart I knew that I read them only because there wasn’t an infinite number of Narnia books to read.”

I don’t have that relationship with Narnia, having only met it as an adult. But the idea of an infinite number of books is something that crops up in my own fiction in recent years. In The 1001st Book, the divine king Thoth of Attalan left behind thousands of books containing the universal magic lore. Wizards spend decades studying it and even centuries (for the final Gift of Thoth was that time spent studying the Truth does not count toward your lifespan), but they never manage to learn it all. It is said in that world that the person who reads and understands all the books of Thoth will be his reincarnation and save the world, but so far no one has come really close.

My choice of name and locale for the story is not incidental, but is plainly inspired by Japanese author and cult leader Ryuho Okawa, who should have reached 900 books any day now. Okawa does consider himself a reincarnation of Thoth as well as of Hermes Trismegistus, each of which is said to have written thousands of books containing all the secret knowledge of the world. Obviously this immense number of books is purely mythological. Only a few scattered fragments of writings purportedly from Hermes Trismegistus remain, although they are tantalizing in their powerful prose and have exerted a subtle but ongoing influence on Christianity and thus western culture.

Speaking of Christianity, we come to the second association. The disciple whom Jesus loved (generally assumed to be John) writes in conclusion of his(?) gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”  Once again, an infinite number of books. Yet in the end the number of books included in the Christian Holy Scriptures was quite limited. Rather than write an unlimited number of books, Jesus Christ entrusted to the Spirit of Truth to expand and bring alive what he had embodied.

The truth is that it is natural for anything higher-dimensional to be infinite in terms of lower dimensions. Did that sound abstract? Think of a mountain, it is 3-dimensional. Think of a photo, it is 2-dimensional (at least the part of it that interests us). You can take an infinite number of pictures of the mountain, from all sides and all heights, and each tiny change in placement of the camera will yield a new picture, even though the mountain is the same. Even if you take them from the same place, the weather and time of day will still make them different. And even after all that, you have only shown the surface of it. Its content, the quality of what it is inside, is not described even after all that.

Therefore, there can always be an infinite number of books, because there are things higher than books. I remember my aunt’s husband saying to me, after I admitted I did not know something: “There could be written thick books about all the things that you don’t know.” And I have been reading such books ever since. And yet there is an infinite number of books that could be written still, about an infinite number of things. Because there are things higher than books, and even something higher than those things. We are immersed in eternity.

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