On finding my own books

It is early here.  The sky is the deep overcast shade of an English winter’s morning in November.  But it is warm, too warm to stay in bed, so I have risen to begin the day.  As I did so, I noted that I needed a new bedside book, and the whim struck me to read again a volume of the adventures of Fu Manchu.

The first three volumes in this series – The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The Devil Doctor, and The Si-Fan Mysteries, were all published in the days when Sherlock Holmes was still living in 221B Baker Street.  They form a kind of trilogy, and belong firmly to the gas-light era.  They should appeal to every Holmes enthusiast.

Vaguely remembering the opening lines of The Devil Doctor, I went to look for my copy.  I know what it looks like – a sun-faded brownish cloth-covered hardback of the kind that litters bookdealers’ shelves.  But … I could not find it.

I have a shelf-full of the later Fu Manchu novels, and I knew where they were.  After browsing a bit, I found The Si-Fan Mysteries.  But where were the other two?

My eyes are not what they were, so I put on my reading glasses and looked along the shelves.  And … I still couldn’t find them.

Partly this is understandable.  I removed most of my books from my study last year, after that room began to take on a definite aroma of a second-hand bookshop.  In the process I discovered that my then cleaning lady had neglected to dust them – the cause of the smell – and a good cleaning dealt with the problem.  But when I put them back, being pressed for space, I double-banked some of the shelves with less-used volumes.

So I looked at the second row.  And I still couldn’t see The Devil Doctor.

Eventually I found The Mysteries of Dr Fu Manchu, a tall paperback reissue of the 1980’s standing in a seldom-used low bookcase where it has stood for 20 years.  That case was never reorganised, so I can only blame myself.  Once I knew the location of every book.  Now it seems that I don’t even remember where books are, that have stood where they are for decades.  It is not merely my eyesight that is fading.

Now this is a trivial problem, and probably caused by the sheer burden of daily life and the amount of things that I am legally obliged to remember to do, or be fined heavily.  I am not growing old yet!  But the problem is only because I once could rely on my memory for the location of my books, and I no longer can.

What to do?

One thing that I can do is to gather together the volumes of series.  When there is a shelf-full of one series, any volume in it can be located more easily.  But that still leaves a vast number of volumes.

Often the place where a book stands is determined by the size of the book and where it will fit on my shelves.  They are not interchangeable in physical form.  Otherwise the answer would be to start some classification system.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I wonder how people manage, once they have above 2,000 books, as most of us must?

(I never found The Devil Doctor.  But fortunately my memory had failed me: the book I wanted was actually The Si-Fan Mysteries!)

4 thoughts on “On finding my own books

  1. I addressed the challenge of 7,500 volumes by packing them in cartons and stowing them in the cellar. A certain few I keep in my living quarters, like Klein’s Etymological Dictionary (Skeat is on the web), Roby’s Latin Grammar, Madvig’s ditto, the Whole Works of the Society for Pure English, the immense Eichborn Sprache Unserer Zeit, and several dozen other desirables.
    But I don’t allow as how the solution by exile would appeal to many.

  2. Ha! Yes … that works, but defeats the object. Why have them, if you cannot open them at a whim?

    One has to have a system to dispose of unwanted books, of course, or books that one knows one will never read again. So I am assuming that the question is for a library of books, all of which we will wish to read or consult at some point.

  3. There’s no good solution to this problem. I made a vow “no more books” then promptly ordered the new Christology by Michael Welker. Finding a desired book can be a real problem among three or four thousand books. Was desperate to find Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ in the single volume a while back. All in vain. Not to worry, Marilynne Robinson’s new book of essays just arrived!

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