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Friday, July 14, 2017

One spine among many


I have lost a book!

Given that I have thousands and thousands of books, you may think that not being able to get my hands on one specific volume is not that surprising.  Which it isn’t.  But what is shaming is that ever since we moved into our present home I have (constantly) made variously wild statements about getting my books organized.

The last time that my books had even the semblance of being part of a coherent system was when I was last living in the UK.  Ever since the move to Spain the books have had to fend for themselves.

I have made half-hearted efforts at establishing a system and there are scattered literary outposts of civilization through my stock - but a coherent and inclusive organizational method has collapsed under the perceived load of the necessary work to make it a reality.

Part of the problem is that my book collection is housed over three floors in a score or more of Billy Bookcases and miscellaneous shelving systems.  Books are double stacked on some shelves and there is therefore not the surplus shelf space to allow “mini collections” to be formed which could then, eventually be amalgamated into a more sensible system.

A complicating fact is my interest in art.  Not that there is anything wrong with the subject, in spite of it being the choice of brain-dead royals to get a degree, no, it is the format of so many art books that is the problem.  Most hardback books are of a size.  There are differences, but those differences can usually be contained on a normal sized shelf.  Many of my art books are large format books that generally require wider spacing to allow the volumes to fit.  Some of my art books are ‘pocket’ size very small publications, while others are extra large.  This means that art books connected to a single artist or a single art movement cannot reasonably be stacked together.  This means that, of necessity there will be various different groupings in place to make any sense of my holdings.

Professional libraries get around the problem of size by having an ‘outsize’ collection and boxes or portfolios containing very small publications.  I have attempted to implement part of this concept by having, for example, a box which contains my poetry notebooks; there is one bookcase which has a higher than usual shelf height at the bottom; my miscellaneous religious books are in one plastic box folder - but the system keeps falling down because of the lack of room.

Toni’s solution is of course to get rid of books.  I shuddered when typing that, because for me that is tantamount to blasphemy and sacrilege.  I think it is the word ‘rid’ that offends me.  After all, I did donate a whole slew of books to the Oxfam Bookshop in Cardiff before I left; donated many bags full of volumes to the library of the British School of Barcelona; have given away selected further volumes to friends - but I cannot bring myself to throw books away.

The problem is further complicated by being in Spain.  We have no real second-hand bookshop in Castelldefels, and even if we did my books are in English and are not of the sort of English that Spanish or Catalan speakers are looking for to improve their language skills.  I have old hardback editions of the CUP Shakespeare, that do not have the latest scholarship informing their editorial decisions, but the pages are good to turn and there is a feel to the paper that I enjoy.

And that is the reason that another of Toni’s suggestions of “Why not have a shelf of Kindles containing all the books you have” is not acceptable either.  I like books as physical objects in themselves.  I like the feel of them, I like the smell of the them and I like the look of them.  I know my way around the trusted books that I have.  They are in a way, a part of me.

Today, when I hear some well-known piece of Classical music, I can usually remember the record that I bought when I got to know it first.  I may not remember the orchestra and the conductor, but I remember the make of the LP and the picture on the front cover.  For some of my early recordings I can even remember what the inner sleeve was like, for example, my recording of the famous orchestral bits of Bizet had a crinkly plastic sleeve rather than the boring white cartridge paper, while my recording of La Création du Monde by Milhaud was jet black, sort of in keeping with the jazzy influence of the music.  Marble Arch, Heliodor, MFP and CFP are all iconic names that helped create my reasonably priced record collection.  Now, I have none.  Instead I have a series of virtually identical discs, kept for reasons of storage in zipped, black, books of plastic pockets.  I don’t want my books to be confined to a Kindle (though I have 5) or the hard disc of a computer (though I have an incomprehensible number of those too) I want my books to have covers and pages and textures and weight.

But they do take up room.  Our living room has one wall of bookcases from floor to ceiling; one bedroom is designated ‘The Library’ and has bookcases along the walls and four back to back as an island in the middle.  I am getting far too fat to squeeze through!  The ‘study’ on the third floor is a jumbled chaos of junk and shelves which contain odd books, papers, CDs (I must be the only person in the world who can point to CDs to cover the tracks on iPods, iPads, computers and the like), machinery (!), tables, chairs - well you get the picture, and I hope it works in words because I have no intention of taking a photograph to show just how squalid the self-imposed conditions in which I work actually are!

So, getting my collection into something approaching a real collection would necessitate wholesale reordering of present arrangements and mean my constantly walking up and down three flights of stairs, adding books to precarious piles which cannot be placed where they should be because there isn’t really that little empty area that there is on a plastic puzzle where you have to move things around one square sliding away to make room for another.  I know that anything other than a gentle tinkering will result in chaos and misery.

Though, there again, having written about it all, I do no feel empowered to Do Something About It.  After all I did visit the ‘church on the hill’ above St Boi that I had been threatening to do for years.  And, with my cousin Dylan and with four aching knees to show for it, we did managed to get to the top and see the spectacular view.  If, the reasoning goes, I can do that, then a labour of love like handing all my books should be far easier.

Though the handling aspect has its own problems that I characterize as The Guinness Book of Records Syndrome.  It is a well-known fact that any previously specified piece of information to be searched for before picking up the Guinness Book of Records will not have been found by the time the book is put down.  However many other interesting facts, though irrelevant to the stated search parameters, will have been discovered. 

Books are meant to be opened not organized.  As many of them are old friends, it would be churlish to pick up a book and plonk it on a shelf without justifying its existence and opening it and reading some of it.  During some past instances of attempted organization I have read entire books (again) after picking them up.  With this approach, I would need a few lifetimes to get the job done.  But done it should be because, and here I go back to where I started, I would not be searching for the book that I cannot find, because I would have know where it was - and if it wasn’t there then it must be lost.

On the other hand, writing about organizing a large collection of books is so much more satisfying and a damn sight less taxing than actually doing it.


The Stain

There has been a short shower! 

Admittedly the rain was more of a momentary sun shower, but liquid did fall from the sky and that must have made a difference to The Stain.  I will take a ride and check on its progress and post the results here.

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