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Rant #11: In Which the Author Looks Through His Library

Recently, an acquaintance introduced me to a little online something called LibraryThing. It's a brilliant idea, a community for book lovers that allows you to enter in the contents of your library for the world to see and share. (Note - it may not be such a great idea if you have rare/old/unique books - there's nothing quite like putting up a sign that says "I've got valuable stuff!" on the internet - but that's neither here nor there.) You can see how many other users have the same books you do, write reviews, organize and re-organize to your heart's content, and generally engage in the sort of relentless obsessive-compulsive behavior that makes up the oxygen of the collector's existence.

I won't even tell you how many hours I've spent on the thing already, and I'm just a small fraction of the way through. The Pratchetts are in - well, the paperback ones, anyway - as are the Brusts, the Zelaznys, and a reasonable chunk of the Holdstocks. Cryptozoology? Entered, and no doubt random strangers who've looked at my collection have decided that I'm some sort of bizarre Grizzly Adams wannabe as a result. The White Wolf stuff? Not yet, and probably not for a long while. There's too much else to go in there, too many other shelves that can be knocked off, entered in, and otherwise fiddled with. There are too many books by other folks, as it were - I don't need to put my personal history up there quite yet. At least, not that part of it.

Now, you might read this and think "What a time sink," and you'd be right. It is a time sink, a magnificent devourer of hours that no doubt detracts from all of the other stuff I really ought to be doing. Finishing the current novel project, for one. Trying to trim the holly bushes in the backyard before they actually go feral and eat the shed, for another. You get the idea.

But there is a value to this, one that extends beyond the merely prosaic fact of finally doping out exactly which books Melinda and I actually own. That's all well and good, and may in fact keep me from buying yet another copy of M. John Harrison's The Pastel City, but it's not the point. The benefit, I think, comes from someplace entirely else.

It comes from taking the books off the shelf.

You must understand, when Melinda and I moved into the house where we now reside, there were literally 49 boxes marked with variations on "Books" that moved with us. We've been accruing more ever since, even with periodic purges. Our tastes have widened, our venues for acquisition broadened, and we've discovered the Wake County library sale, all of which means that the house is positively awash in books. With so many here - and we love each and every one of them, we do, we do - it's easy just to leave them on the shelf, to move on to the next one, and the next, and the next. Old books, even old favorites, can sit and grow dusty, their spines glanced at and not much more.

Cataloging them, however, has made me take them down from the shelf, each and every one. I've had to look at them, open them, and in doing so, remember them - remember what I liked, what I disliked, why I kept them. I had to - no, I got to remember all over again why they were important enough to me to keep.

Charles L. Grant's The Orchard, foolishly read in a doctor's waiting room, just before going into the hospital for lung surgery. Black Butterflies, by John Shirley, which was one of three books read on a flight home from Paris. Dan Simmons' Summer of Night, bought to replace a copy gone missing when I loaned it to one of my mother's students, the loss never regretted. The Old Gods Waken, by Manly Wade Wellman - bought in paperback off eBay, and read in the lounge chairs by the pool I never used at an apartment complex I barely remember. So it goes, so it goes for each.

I've done roughly 500 books so far. There are several times that left to go. I expect each shelf is going to take me quite a while. And oddly enough, I don't mind at all.




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