I've read Villehardouin's chronicle of the Fourth Crusade at least two times, maybe three. And yet if I had to write down everything I remember from it, I doubt it would amount to much more than a page. Multiply this times several hundred, and I get an uneasy feeling when I look at my bookshelves. What use is it to read all these books if I remember so little from them?
(I wrote this talk for a high school. I never actually gave it, because the school authorities vetoed the plan to invite me.)
When I said I was speaking at a high school, my friends were curious. What will you say to high school students? So I asked them, what do you wish someone had told you in high school? Their answers were remarkably similar. So I'm going to tell you what we all wish someone had told us.
As a child I read a book of stories about a famous judge in eighteenth century Japan called Ooka Tadasuke. One of the cases he decided was brought by the owner of a food shop. A poor student who could afford only rice was eating his rice while enjoying the delicious cooking smells coming from the food shop. The owner wanted the student to pay for the smells he was enjoying. The student was stealing his smells!
(This is a new essay for the Japanese edition ofHackers & Painters. It tries to explain why Americans make some things well and others badly.)
A few years ago an Italian friend of mine travelled by train from Boston to Providence. She had only been in America for a couple weeks and hadn't seen much of the country yet. She arrived looking astonished. "It's so ugly!"