Early this month, I had a sudden urge to find out exactly how many books I have in my possession. I’ve long wanted to have some sort of a catalogue or database for keeping track of all the books I’ve come to acquire, but had always been put off by the thought of how much effort it would require to do so. And so the books kept piling, and the task kept looking ever more daunting. I used to have a very clear idea of what books I have and where they are located, but lately it has come to a point where things have started to get fuzzy. I didn’t like the fact that I was slowly losing touch with my books. I wanted to know exactly what are on my shelves, which ones are under my bed in storage, and where the rest are taking refuge in, at all the different nooks and corners around the house. I wanted to be in touch with each of them again, especially the ones that have been out of sight, out of mind. And so, I was finally nudged out of my inertia and set about doing something about it.

I started to build my ‘virtual shelves’ over at Goodreads.

Things got off to a slow start initially, as I fiddled around to see how things worked over there. I had a bit of trouble getting Goodreads to reflect my shelves the way I wanted them to. The default settings were somehow not very helpful in doing that. I think this is mainly due to the fact that Goodreads was designed primarily to serve as a platform for readers to share what they are reading or have read, rather than as a place for organizing one’s personal library, in the way that maybe LibraryThing is. But since I have already registered an account (inactive until now, though) with Goodreads a couple of years back, and also because it’s free (unlike LibraryThing), I stuck on.

After abit more of tinkering about, I finally got the shelves into place and I think it will suffice for now. I have to admit though, it was rather fun to play around with all the sorting and adding of books onto those virtual shelves, once I got the hang of it. And it feels good to be able to see them all gathered together at one place. To be able to survey my entire library, at a glance.

Such clear visibility has certainly helped to put things into clearer perspectives. I now know that I own a total of 953 books (shocking!), out of which I’ve only read 79 of them (shameful…). Even after taking out the 30 odd ones that are coffee table/ photography books, and the 45 of which I’ve started reading at some point but had been left unfinished at various stages, that still leaves me with roughly 800 books waiting to be read! Okay, maybe we can remove another 15 or 20 of those that I no longer think I will ever want to read…. that’s still about 780 unread books sitting on my shelves. What a sobering thought. And I have not even mentioned about the ones lurking in the wishlist and the ‘want to read but not owned’ shelves yet…..

Definitely not a very comforting ‘revelation’.

But as it happens, I just read a beautiful piece by Anthony Doerr and was once again reminded of what it is that I can take comfort in.

For my first seventy-two hours on that island it rained every minute. On my third night—I hadn’t seen another human being in two days—a storm came in and my tent started thrashing about as if large men had ahold of each corner and were trying to shred it. Sheep were groaning nearby, and my sleeping bag was flooding, and I wanted to go home.

I leaned into the little shuddering tent vestibule and got my stove lit. I started boiling noodles. I carefully cut open my can of tomato sauce, anticipating spaghetti. I dipped my finger in. It was ketchup.
I almost started crying. Instead I switched on my flashlight and opened The Story and Its Writer. For no reason I could articulate, I began with “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” by Alice Munro.

By the second paragraph the tent had disappeared. The storm had disappeared. I had disappeared. I had become a little girl, my father was a salesman for Walker Brothers, and we were driving through the Canadian night, little bottles in crates clinking softly in the backseat.

Next I flipped to Italo Calvino’s “The Distance of the Moon.” Now I was clambering up a ladder onto the moon. The last page left me smiling and awed and misty: “I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon. . . . ”

Then I lost myself in the menacing, half-drunk suburbia of Raymond Carver. Then Isak Dinesen’s “The Blue Jar.” The line “When I am dead you will cut out my heart and lay it in the blue jar” is still underlined—underlined by a younger, wetter, braver version of me—as I sit here in Idaho with the book almost twenty years later, warm and dry, no ketchup in sight. I press my nose to the page: I smell paper, mud, memory.

[…..] For seven months I carried The Story and Its Writer through New Zealand. I hiked my way from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island and Nadine Gordimer came with me; Flannery O’Connor came with me; Tim O’Brien came with me. On a sheep farm in Timaru, John Steinbeck whispered, “The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.” In a hostel in Queens-town, Joyce whispered, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe.” In a climber’s hut beneath the summit of Mount Tongariro, John Cheever whispered, “Is forgetfulness some part of the mysteriousness of life?”

[…..] What I have learned and relearned all my life, what I learned growing up in a house overspilling with books, what The Story and Its Writer taught me, what I relearned last night reading Harry Potter to my five-year-old sons, is that if you are willing to let yourself go, to fall into the dazzle of well-made sentences, each strung lightly one after the next—“Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down.” – if you live with stories, you will never be alone.

The Story And Its Writer – Anthony Doerr
~
taken from ‘Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book’, edited by Sean Manning

Now, I am thrilled to know what awaits me.
🙂

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13 thoughts on “Taking Stock

    1. Thanks, Karen! The getting them listed part was indeed tedious, but I’m glad it’s done. I think I really needed to see those figures in order to ‘shock’ me into rectifying my reading/ buying habits! :p

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  1. Wooh, Michelle! That’s jaw-dropping – 953/79!..
    I am not sure what my ratio is (it’s nowhere near yours) but I occasionaly feel bad for having so many books I am not reading.
    Just the other day, when I came home with the newest bunch, mum asked me why do I need so many books. At first I had no answer. Then I said I am going to leave them to my future niece/nephew. haha

    I have been working on the same thing, cataloging, but I am still not finished. There’s not much left though..
    The one thing that I dislike on Goodreads is that you HAVE to list a book either as read, reading or want to read.. What if I own a book I never have read and do not want to? :/ Give them away? 😀
    Also, I have been pondering a written catalog – do I need it (I was always a fan of time-wasting projects) and how I could organize it..

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    1. Yeah, it’s jaw-dropping alright…. but definitely not something to be proud of. :/ I should be feeling really guilty (& I do) for having so many unread books and probably need a lifetime ban from buying books. :p
      At least you had a valid excuse to answer your mum (your future niece/ nephew are gonna love you for it!) hahah! 😀
      I’m afraid I don’t even have that as an excuse for all the books I bring home….

      I share your same dislike about Goodreads! That is really such an inflexible feature, and no good reason why they can’t modify it. Which is why I needed to have one shelf for ‘owned – tbr’ as an exclusive shelf (books here don’t get added in Read, Reading or want to read- to avoid overlapping), and one ‘own – read’ non-exclusive shelf (books here get added to Read). I think you can try creating one ‘owned but do not want to read’ exclusive shelf. Then they don’t get put into the read, reading or want to read shelves. 🙂
      And are you sure you really want to spend time doing a written catalog and not use the time to read more of those unread books you occasionally feel bad about instead? :p

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      1. I must be doing something wrong because it’s not working. Whenever I add a book to whatever shelf, Goodreads automatically checks it as ‘read’. :/

        Good point on a written catalog though I am still unconvinced. It would take as much time as one voluminous book, so..
        In any case, it will have to wait (if I decide to make it) since I have no time for it now!

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  2. I feel so much better now about the 166 books that are unread in my shelves…..actually I refuse to feel guilty about them any longer. I did once and then Realised that they are my personal library. A place that is always open. A place that holds a treasure of possibilities to suit any mood.

    As for Goodreads/library Thing cataloging, I was using both ( Stupid waste of time to duplicate) but switched to using a spreadsheet in google docs. That way it available off line and I can sort by different categories like year of acquisition, genre, original language, nationality of the author. Much more practical for me than Goodreads.

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    1. I love how you put it… a personal library that is always open, with unlimited possibilities to suit any mood. 🙂
      I guess I can perform a sort of community service here…. for those who are feeling bad about their unread stacks, they just need to take a look at mine and come away feeling much better!
      The Google spreadsheet may be more practical and detailed, I supposed, but I rather like the visual aspects of the catalogue that comes with Goodreads. I love looking at the book covers on display. 🙂

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  3. My goodness, you have been busy. I came to the whole ‘books on the internet’ thing when I had to put some of my books into storage for a while and didn’t want to forget what had, but these days I just add new books to LibraryThing and try to remember to delete them when I part company with any. I don’t dare look at how man y are unread, but I tell myself that I am refining my collection so that my choices will increase and the quality of what I read will improve. And that I – and you – will always find something to read ….

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    1. Yes, that’s true…. the best part about one’s personal library is that it’s curated to our own taste and interest, therefore we will always find something in there to suit us. I have often walked into a bookshop or some other smaller scale book sales (not the Wolf one) and found that I much prefer what I have in my personal library than what is being offered out there. 🙂
      Of course there is still much refining to be done to my library (having them all listed out now will be helpful), and like you, I hope to continually fine tune the quality and choices in it…..

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  4. 900+ books is a lot!

    I’ve tried both Goodreads and LibraryThing, but I just never got the hang of it. I gave up on LibraryThing first, and I only just recently revisited my account on Goodreads. But the list is so incomplete, now that I’ve added a ton of new books to my shelves! (I’ve got about 300, having read about 20%).

    I use an Excel spreadsheet now. I agree with you, though, that it would be nice to see the covers, but the spreadsheet is, so far, the only consistent way I’ve been able to catalogue the books I own. And my blog is also, so far, the best way for me to catalogue the books I’ve read. =D

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    1. I know, I know…. 900+ is a lot… and the scariest part is that it’s still growing! :p
      I still think it would be easier to catalogue the books with just a few clicks rather than having to key in the details on a spreadsheet, isn’t it? Anyway, I love looking at the covers too much to give that up, I guess.
      Oh, and just for the record, the ‘friendly neighbourhood library’ offer still stands. 🙂

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      1. Thanks for the offer, Michelle! I’ve got too many of my own books to read.. but I’ll definitely keep this in mind! Maybe we can meet up for coffee some time during the BBW sales this year…? =P

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