Monday, October 27, 2008

Unsorted books

Building work on the loft conversion finished about nine months ago, which means that it's about time for me to think seriously about getting all my books out from the boxes and piles where they're stacked and into some sort of availability and order on bookshelves.

The first of these is more easily achieved - as I pick up bookcases from here and there it's a simple matter to bung some books on, thus reducing the piles. Order, alphabetical or otherwise, is a little harder. I haven't the room or space or patience to sort through the piles for the As to Es, so instead I'm going to wait till they're all shelved and then start a second process of sorting them. My sister-in-law, who is a librarian, would be horrified. (And it's probably more time-consuming in the long run.)

In the meantime the shelves are in a fascinating state of disorder, with some fleetingly amusing, provocative, assonant and dissonant juxtapositions. It's tempting to give you a caseful, not least because the disorder allows me to boast obliquely about the books I've got (not read, necessarily...) without revealing the gaps, which an alphabetical ordering would do. But that would hardly be much fun for you. Still, it's somehow strange and refreshing to see Benn next to Sterne, Naipaul (Shiva) next to Naipaul (VS; I suppose they'd be adjacent anyway), Catullus/Skelton, Lowell (R)/Pushkin, Stendhal/Auden ('Deftly, admiral, cast your fly'), Yeats/Frost, John Stammers/Dylan Thomas, Eliot/Paterson, Fenton/Brodsky, Huysmans/Hofmann & inevitably O'Brien/Didsbury (the last two not accidents but the result of final thesis drafting), and a holy trinity of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Al Purdy (whose work I must blog about some time to anyone who'll listen).

All quasi-random and basically meaningless, like everything else in life.

It strikes me, looking at a selection of my books, how narrow my reading is: poetry from the English tradition, some, mainly twentieth-century German poetry, Russian prose fiction, some European cultural theory and other European nuggets, and the odd American. Everyone is or ought to be promising themselves to read more, and more widely, and both the promising and the reading are or would be Good Things; but I can't help feeling rather non-urgent about it most of the time. After all, there's plenty, lifetimes of plenty, more that I haven't read even within those narrow parameters. And there are also sometimes reasons to read more narrowly, more deeply — reasons which it isn't really possible to go into except by saying 'I want to.'


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