Library Note:
Favorite Pastime
27 September 2019

¶ My favorite pastime is arranging books. Or would it be more correct, more insightful, to say that arranging books is actually an awfully agreeable relief from reading, which is in fact my favorite pastime? It depends, I suppose, on whether you regard a pastime as involving some sort of activity, more than just sitting there. (Turning pages and sipping tea do not count.)

Sometimes, arranging books is very annoying, and that’s all there is too it. Can you have a favorite pastime that is occasionally annoying, very annoying?

It’s understood that arranging books is just a way of planning to read them. Isn’t it? Or is that a conclusion toward which the inexorable tide of long experience has swept me? From time to time, the pile of books that I’m arranging includes a volume that, I suddenly realize, I am not going to read, ever. Even if I want to read it, I don’t — I won’t — have the time, all things (all other books) considered, to read it. 

I am in the middle of novels-storage crisis. There are two stacks of novels to be put away somewhere, but no somewhere. Absolutely no somewhere. Unless and until I get rid of other novels. The difficulty is that no section of my library has been more repeatedly culled than that of fiction. Not lately, anyway, not since I got rid of all those histories of mathematics and other aspirational sorts of books that, frankly, I am too old to aspire to. Anyway, I do not enjoy arranging novels. Not right now.

“Arranging books” also includes buying them, especially (pastime or not pastime?) ordering them from Amazon. New books must, of course, fit in with the ones that I already own. Or — which is as rare as it is fantastic — a new book must make books that I already have, some of them anyway, seem unnecessary, so that the net net total of books actually drops. I may be reading such a book now: Luuk van Middelaar’s De nieuwe politiek van Europa. (All right, I’m reading it in English — Alarums and Excursions. In an introduction, the author tells us that he approved this rendering; but that doesn’t mean that I have to.) It’s about the tension between the rules-based foundation of the EU and the events-politics turmoil into which recent crises (the Euro, the Ukraine, the refugees, and now Brexit — all problems that transcend the individual interests of member nations) have thrust it. Once I’ve digested everything that the madly brilliant van Middelaar has to say, perhaps a few of my older history books will look obsolete. (Although one venerable title, George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, now seems as relevant as a book can be.) 

I almost bought an unnecessary book today — a score of Brahms’s Second Symphony. Happily, it was Amazon’s web page itself that prevented my mistake. Other books of related interest featured one with a rather familiar cover: the complete symphonies of Brahms. This I went and found in the stack of other Dover scores. Tucked away in a corner of the living room, of all places, as if I were some kind of undergraduate.

Not having arranged books is always extremely annoying — whenever I have to think about it. 

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