This month we caught up with 2016 Library Laureate Brian Christian to discuss all things poetry and what makes libraries so valuable in this day and age.
Brian Christian is the author of The Most Human Human, which was named a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a New Yorker favorite book of the year. Christian has been featured on The Daily Show, Radiolab, and The Charlie Rose Show, and his work has won several awards, including fellowships at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Check out his latest book, Algorithms to Live By.
What are you reading right now?
I recently started Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind, a book which I learned about the old-fashioned way: by shamelessly eavesdropping on two readers discussing it at the table next to mine over brunch.
Who, currently, are your favorite living poets?
I was so stunned to hear of C. D. Wright’s passing, and I still can’t quite come to terms with that. Forrest Gander was my mentor at Brown and my gateway drug to contemporary poetry. Ben Lerner is electric on the page, and I devour his novels but hope we haven’t seen the last of his verse. Arthur Sze’s work is somehow both meditative and haunting, an unusual combination, in the best of ways.
Which poet of past would you most like to share a drink with?
Maybe this is cheating, but my first thought is Eliot, because the rest of the Lost Generation would probably be drinking with him. Also because I’d be in Paris. In the 20s.
How do you envision libraries in the future?
I’m reminded of the quote by Thoreau about college. “Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made.”
I agree: while the lectures were what I ostensibly paid for, the real value was in the one-to-one off-hours mentorship of several of my advisers, and even more so in the fellowship of my peers—both of which were ostensibly free. Through this lens, I take a skeptical view of the online education movement, though I do think people around the world benefit from better access to information.
This is how I think of the future of the library as well. Mentorship and fellowship will require physical spaces whether or not the consumption of information does. In these the institution of the library has a unique and important role to play—now and for a very long time.
What projects are you working on right now?
Last month was the publication of my second book of nonfiction, a collaboration with a good friend of mine, Tom Griffiths. The book is called Algorithms to Live By and uses computer science as a lens for thinking about human decision-making. In short, we think of things like choosing between our favorite things and new ones, wrangling mess, and managing time as uniquely human problems. They’re not. I’m extremely proud of it and can’t wait to see it make its way to readers’ hands and minds.