Friday, January 2, 2009

You can never have too many books

Hello, and Happy New Year! This is Michael. For my first post, I thought I'd share my library. Although not complete yet, my library is up on the website LibraryThing, a neat online tool for listing what books you have in your own library (there's also Shelfari). The site enables you to see other people's libraries, put up book reviews, see what books you share with other readers, and many other things. My library is listed here (this does not include some of my wife's books that I have no interest in). It consists of some 750 books right now, but will probably near 2,000 when I finish adding them (the recent purchase of a library-style barcode scanner has made this task much more efficient). My books fall mainly in history and science, and you will see an emphasis in the history of science, specifically evolution and Charles Darwin. That makes sense, of course, since I am a graduate student in the history of science at Montana State University in Bozeman. See my blog about Darwin and the history of science.

So, why so many books? I know I will never read them all, and there is so much information available online. But books still retain for me that feeling of discovering some neat nugget of knowledge by randomly opening to a page, or the ability to find in a book a piece of information I am seeking. Yes, I can Google it, but it's much more fun thinking of which book I own may have that information. Here are two quotes about owning more books than you can read, one I clipped out of an issue of The Sun, and the other from a favorite author, friend, and fellow Bozeman resident, David Quammen.

I have cakes of soap that I bought twenty-five years ago, still in their wrappers, and I am saving them in the perfect confidence that the right day will come to unwrap each one and use it. And there are probably a hundred books downstairs in the library that I am eager to read, have been eager to read for years, yet refuse to read until the day comes, the day that says to me: This is the monring to start Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, or George Borrow, or Psichari, or someone else. Now, in my logical mind, I know quite well that these promised days are not likely ever to arrive: I shall never use those old cakes of soap that are stored in the linen closet, and I am reasonably sure of never reading Romany Rye, because it doesn't interest me. But there is that other person, the ideal one that I ought to be, whom it does interest, and it comforts me to think that those things are waiting for him.

How I differ from Bowles, however, is that all my books do interest me, but I just need more of me to be able to read them all. And now, Quammen:

Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper. For instance, I own a two-volume set of Da Vinci's notebooks, and Encyclopedia of Papau and New Guinea, and a biography of Attila the Hun. These are valuable assests just as they sit, making no peremptory claims for my attention. But in my mental card catalog there's another group of books, a small and exclusive group, each of which is tagged: HIGH INTEREST/READ IMMEDIATELY. New books enter that category rarely, and some old ones seem never to get out. I have a volume of Rousseau's Emile that's been classified HI/RI since 1976. Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy and a severe, intriguing volume called Scientists Under Hitler are others. Life is too short for an earnest plodder like me, who reads only as fast as his lips can mime the syntax. Bernd Heinrich's Bumblebee Economics falls in the same category. I had never stopped intending to read it - soon, any week now - and meanwhile six years had gone by in a blink.
David Quammen, The Boilerplate Rhino (2001)

Joining LibraryThing is easy and fun. A free account enables you to list up to 200 books. I opted for the lifetime account (for a small fee) so I am not restricted by numbers and can continue to grow my online library along side my real one for years to come.

Currently Reading: Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson (who will be in Bozeman in April 2009) and Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

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