Luc Sante has an essay, “The Book Collection That Devoured My Life,” on a problem many of my readers will probably empathize with as much as I do: “Seemingly I’ve arranged my life in order to acquire as many books as possible…. I discovered that I owned no fewer than five copies of André Breton’s Nadja, not even all in different editions. I owned two copies of St. Clair McKelway’s True Tales from the Annals of Crime & Rascality, identical down to the mylar around the dust jacket. I had books in three languages I don’t actually read….” Needless to say, I have books in even more languages I don’t actually read (though I think I may have disposed of the Albanian booklet on the wonders of socialism). Anyway, it’s as enjoyable as Sante’s writing always is (the name, by the way, is monosyllabic). Thanks, Jill!


  1. i might be able to get you your albanian booklet back. i’m guilty as well of texts in languages with which i lack much familiarity, though thankfully i was able to bring myself to separate from my collection before a trans-pacific move.
    although, as i think about it, i do still have a fairly old book from albania on formal grammar…

  2. Thank you. Next time someone looks at my overflowing bookcases, I can give them this and say, “I’m not as bad as he is!”

  3. A. Crown says

    A good English course should include a week on how to build bookcases, bookcases through the ages and ways to adapt IKEA shelving units. I would be happy to teach such a course. I bet your houses, all of you, have acres of wasted wall-space that could be adapted to shelving: any exposed beams on your ceilings? put shelves on both sides; staircases? all staircases require bookcases; toilets and bathrooms likewise; and so on. My cousin has a different subject in each room: he has histories of the Tory party in the kitchen, Labour in a bedroom, and so on. It gives some life to what would otherwise be a fairly dull house. I think that regular dusting of the books is important, though (not that I do it).

  4. John Emerson says

    I have a collection of American pulp fiction translated into languages I can’t read. Pulp fiction is predictable enough that I can basically figure out what’s happening in Norwegian, Dutch or Catalan, but in Polish, Czech, and Finnish there aren’t enough cognates. Romanian is surprisingly hard too, despite being a Romance language.
    I also have a few Xixia texts that more or less no one can read, and the secondary literature seems to be mostly in Russian and Japanese, which I also can’t read. But XIxia script is unique and graphically fun.

  5. ways to adapt IKEA shelving units
    Agh, don’t get me started. The Swedish bastards can’t make a decent shelving unit with height less than 170 cm (my apartment can’t accomodate anything taller). Billy is too tall, they stopped making Enetri, Norrebo is ugly. It looks like I’m gonna be stuck with this, unless I can find someone to make me a custom bookcase.
    I bet your houses
    Houses? I wish. I have a studio apartment. 28m2. Consequently, I’m way ahead of you on that toilet and bathroom idea.

  6. If you’re a scientist you’ve also got books on esoteric mathematical subjects you’ll never get to. Anyone want a book (or two) on K-Theory?

  7. Crown, Arthur says

    I saw the top off Billy, it’s the least ostentatious model. It’s cheaper (here in Norway where there are more evergreen trees than people) than starting from scratch.

  8. A. Crown says

    I don’t know about these electronic reader thingies, maybe one day. I said I would never make a drawing on a computer, but then came Photoshop.

  9. In the early days, I discovered that woodworking was a great complement to book collecting. My wife and I would shop for books one weekend, then shop for wood to build shelves the next weekend. (If you can handle a circular saw well enough to make diagonal cuts across a 1×8 pine board, you can bang out a 6 foot tall, 3 foot wide book case that will hold 150 hardbacks from 6 1x8s in a couple of hours–the hard part is finding straight boards.)
    At one point, we had library-style stacks in our living room in our apartment. Bookcases were held back-to-back with bungee cords, and spaced 2 feet apart, facing each other. We even had labels on the ends of the bookcases for the subjects they contained.
    Eventually we decided to go for a snazzier look, but oak is so expensive that buying nice oak bookcases is cheaper than buying oak boards to build decent oak bookcases. We sold all the hand made pine bookcases (first garage sale I ever had that made over $600), moved across country, then bought 7-foot by 3-foot oak ones (with metals tracks inside for shelves adjustable to the 1/4 inch) to replace them. We converted our combined formal living room and dining room into one big library. We added a couple of over-stuffed chairs and some goofy over-sized book-shaped tables. It was glorious.
    We moved across country again, and discovered the joy of the finished basement. Lined with bookcases. We moved again, cross-town only, two years ago (and I hope for the last time.. I usually do 90% of the book moving by myself with a dolly. I only make my friends carry furniture too big for one person to move.) We still have a finished basement full of bookcases, but we’ve taken to creative stacking of the books (alphabetically parallel shelves of hardbacks and double-rows of paperbacks gets you an extra adjustable shelf and a few dozen extra books per bookcase–which ads up across 30 or 40 book cases). We stack them like that so we don’t need more bookcases even though we have more books.
    We always have more books. We bought another 100 volumes over the Memorial Day weekend–Pittsburgh is only 4 hours away and they have 4 Half Price Books stores. How could we resist? The kids have caught the mania, too. They love to find those goofy kids’ series with 10 or more books in them, so they don’t have to waste time when they finish one book picking out the next.
    We rarely buy duplicates, though.. we keep everything in a database on a laptop. It used to be exportable to a PDA, but I think we have too many books in the database now, the PDA index gets corrupted from time to time.
    The laptop is portable enough for big shopping trips, though. We recently passed 11,000 volumes. Ahh, 8,000 doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago.
    Hi everyone. My name is Trey, and I’m a biblioholic.

  10. You’re among friends, Trey. But may I suggest that you join LibraryThing, so that you can access your catalog more easily (and enjoy the many features of LT)?

  11. There’s a PDA (PalmOS) app that works with LibraryThing, too. The cheapest Zire from eBay will hold 11K books; that’s what my wife carries. (I wrote it, but it’s free and open source, so this is only sort of a plug.)

  12. Bill Walderman says

    The sidebar to the Wall Street Journal article devoted to private libraries should have included the famous footnote from Gibbon, writing about the 3d century emperor Gordian II: “Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested the variety of his inclinations, and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than ostentation.”

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  14. I really should get my volumes organised.
    Sadly, I think I’m way out of my league here. I doubt I have more than a thousand volumes in all. Though perhaps if I count the bandes dessinnées I can get over that number.
    Still have a number of boxes in storage at my sister’s (we didn’t get around to moving them further when we cleared our mother’s house). Don’t actually recall how many … only that that must be where my copy of Origin is.
    Bulbul, Expedit is only 149 cm high/long (depending on model – I have low, 2×4 section ‘separating’ my kitchen from the livingroom. It’s pretty deep, but it can be sawn in half!

  15. Thanks for the suggestion of LibraryThing. I already knew about it (from previous discussions of it on this blog, in fact). My two biggest concerns about it were, first, that my catalog was under someone else’s control (what if they go out of business?–this was more of a concern in the early days) and, second, that I’d need an internet connection to access my catalog. I don’t have an internet-accessible PDA, and bookstores (especially used bookstores) don’t always have WiFi.
    Back in the old, old days, we used to have a print out (with regular addenda and occasional full re-printings) in a binder we carried around with us, based on a FileMakerPro database I put together myself. For a while we had the FMPro PDA DB. Then we moved up to ReaderWare a few years back, since it came with an adapted CueCat barcode scanner, and it can look up info from Amazon and others based on the barcode scan.
    MMcM, can you give a bit more of a plug and supply a link to the LT PDA app? I might have to re-investigate the whole situation again and see if it is time to move to LT.

  16. PalmThing for LibraryThing: readme. discussion group.

    • Specifically aims to do the best it can with older PDAs like one might pick up used.
    • Works offline. Catalog is downloaded from LT (as a flat file) and (converted and) uploaded to the handheld.
    • Linking to a book’s LT page does work on internet-capable devices, but this isn’t essential to any common use case.
    • Not much attention paid to entering books on the handheld: LT is the data’s home.
    • Unicode version available for polyglot libraries. Somewhat more resource intensive. As far as I know, I am the only one who uses this. But this is LanguageHat, so others here might want to.
    • Free (in the more obvious sense of that word).
  17. Thanks MMcM!!

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