A tour of my library…

August 8, 2019

In previous summers, I’ve done something different in a series of posts; this year I have decided to take those of you who are interested on a tour of my library. This has been growing since I first acquired copies of The Wind in The Willows and Winnie the Pooh (which I still possess) when I was about six years old. It’s gone through a couple of incarnations, swelling enormously when I was an undergraduate and then shrinking again when I divested myself of an awful lot of books, and doing that again when I did my postgrad research. Since then it has grown gradually, reaching a peak of about two and a half thousand books; in recent years I have been trying to get to down to manageable size (!) and it’s now below the two-thousand mark…

The idea for these posts was sparked by a recent visit to Belsay Hall, a stately home in Northumberland, which has a Brideshead kind of history, as, after being commandeered for use during the Second World War and fairly comprehensively wrecked, it was given to English Heritage on condition that it wasn’t restored to its former glory, but that the shell be preserved to showcase its inner and outer architecture and design. So the library is a vast, empty room, with ranks of empty bookshelves lining its walls, and I found myself thinking, “My library could fill these shelves…”

Given that we live in a modest semi, my library is distributed around the house. There are books in the sitting room, in the hall, and in my study, as well as in crates and boxes in the loft. And there is also my other half’s library, and the books we share.

I do possess an (imperfect and incomplete) catalogue of my library. Some forty-five years ago I acquired a large bound daybook – the kind of thing financial transactions used to be logged in, in pre-computer days – and decided to use this to list all my books. Every one has an accession number, and I log the author, title, date I acquired the book, and whether it is new or second-hand. I’m approaching number 4000 in terms of accessions, so there have clearly been a lot of deletions, too; these are denoted by a pencil line through the details of any book I’ve disposed of, so there is actually a record of all the books I have ever owned, pretty much.

At some point in my early days of computer ownership I tried to teach myself how to use databases and failed abysmally, instead setting up a quite detailed and searchable spreadsheet of my library, from which titles are actually deleted when they leave my possession. A slimmed-down version of this is now on my phone with the aim of stopping me buying books twice over when I’m browsing second-hand bookshops… which does happen with increasing regularity.

The daybook which contains my hard copy also contains my reading log, which dates back to 1973, when I became an undergraduate. I log the author and title of every book I read, and the date on which I finish reading it; I also log the date in pencil on the final blank page of the actual book. So I do have some track of what I’ve read and when; a friend pointed out to me that if the reading log were put on a spreadsheet, all sorts of interesting information might be sorted and extracted: I can’t face the effort…

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