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.