Library Note:


In the din of chit-chat and prognostication about digital book readers and whatnot, the idea of the library seems to have been drowned out. Technically, of course, the library will go digital along with its constituent texts, and occupy no visible space. A superb prospect! If someone offered me the contents of several major research libraries on a handful of flash drives, I’d be as giddy as a schoolboy.

The idea of the book as a disembodied object that appears only when needed is tremendously appealing. It would be wonderful if my bodied books would appear when needed! The other night, it’s true, I got very lucky: when the conversation turned to Savonarola, I was able to produce Lauro Martines’s book on the subject, Fire in the City. More typical, sadly, was the search for Marsha Colish’s Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition. The Readerware file — I was still using Readerware at the time — pointed me to a shelf that did not exist. I tore apart the history bookcase, but to no avail. It turned out that I had let M le Neveu borrow the book, and surrendered to the nutty idea that a nonexistent shelf would indicate that the book was out on loan. It was thanks only to a spot of housecleaning at his end that I put my hands on Professor Colish.

A new way of cataloguing my library occurred to me the other day: I would simply take snapshots of the ranges of books. Most of my shelves hold two rows of books, one behind the other; the block of shelves in the photo above holds three. Hence “tearing apart.” A loose-leaf notebook full of digital images of arrayed spines would be the only catalogue that I’d need, and it would take very little time to update. If I were younger, I’d probably give this notion a try, but my more experienced self thinks that it’s suspiciously easy-sounding. I don’t know what’s wrong with the idea, really, but I’m sure that there’s something — and I know that I would feel an everloving fool when I found out what it was.

The other day, Joe Jervis remarked in passing that he has never been one to amass books in order to show off his reading. Horrified, I wondered if (a) that’s what my library is all about and (b) that’s how my library strikes other people. The first doubt was easily dealt with, because I’m very unimpressed by my library, and would not think much of anyone who regarded it as extensive. For me, an impressive library is a room all four walls of which are lined with bookshelves that reach at least from hip height to the ceiling. As for what other people think, I had to admit that I’m showing off. Subject, however, to the foregoing caveat: only rubes fall for it. This is simply how the well-fed urban ego behaves.

As I toiled over piles of books this afternoon, I asked myself more than once: why do I have all these books? If it weren’t for periodic bouts of re-shelving, would I ever have occasion to touch them? It’s all very well to produce a book about Savonarola on demand, but it’s also true that nobody dropped out of the dinner-party conversation in order to read it. You could say that I demonstrated the book’s existence. As I could with somewhere between two and three thousand other volumes. Pourquoi?

I have never lived without books, but I suspect that, without the daily reminder posted by those serried dust jackets, I might forget an important part of myself — to wit, where I’ve been in this life. I’ve spent so much of it reading!

Fossil Darling, who likes to dream, promised me the other day that, if and when he wins the lottery, he will set me up in a loft vast enough to house all of my books. Quatorze frowned: “RJ doesn’t want to live in a loft.” Quite right, Q! If money were no object, I’d take a suite at one of the grand hotels and survive on room service. With room service, I wouldn’t need a library. I’d just have books sent up.

As needed.

One Response to “Library Note:

  1. Fredy says:

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