“Any person who owns several tens of thousands of books is faced with an inescapable problem: their classification. For if the comfortable chaos of a few hundred books does not prevent their owner (and their owner alone!) from finding his or her way around them, the ordering of ten or twenty thousand books requires one to have a retrieval system.” (page 32)
I’ve accumulated a lot of books over the years. While I certainly don’t have anywhere near tens of thousands of books it is a pretty substantial collection. I’ve tried several times to put together a catalog but I’ve never made it very far. In my latest attempt I’ve reached about 200 and that is barely scratching the surface. While part of the problem is struggling to figure out the best category a particular book should belong in, I think deep down I don’t really want to know how many I actually have.
In the Phantoms On The Bookshelves, Jacques Bonnet talks about his issues with categorizing his tens of thousands of books.
Just 133 pages, this is a quick read but one that is full of wonderful information. He gives examples of some of the books and authors that have given him trouble and reviews different types of classification systems. But like any other good book about books this also about his love for books and reading.
“But what lies behind this disturbing ‘reading fever’? The primal scene – of which naturally I have no memory – no doubt lies in that magical moment when one learns to read, and the infinite horizon that opens up when you decipher something written down.” (page 28)
There are some great stories about personal libraries and a ton of literary recommendations. The book I am most interested in checking out after reading about it in Phantoms On The Bookshelves is The Paper House by Carlos Dominguez.
This little book is one I will definitely be reading again!
From The Cover: This enthralling study on the art of living with books considers how our personal libraries reveal our true natures: far more than merely crowded shelves, they are living labyrinths of our innermost feelings.
The author, a lifelong accumulator of books ancient and modern, lives in a house large enough to accommodate his many thousands of volumes, as well as overspill from the libraries of his friends. While his musings on the habits of collectors from the earliest known libraries are learned, amusing and instructive, his advice on cataloguing may even save lives.
Phantoms on the Bookshelves ranges from classical Greece to contemporary Iceland, from Balzac to Moby-Dick and Google, spiced with anecdotes along the way. This volume, rich with wit and wisdom, will be a lasting delight to specialist collectors, librarians, bibliophiles and to all those who treasure books.
Just One More Thing: “Only the wall above my bed has always been spared from bookshelves, as the consequence of an ancient trauma. I learnt, long ago, the circumstances of the death of the composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, sometimes described as the “Berlioz of the piano”, who was found on 30 March, 1888 crushed to death by his own bookshelves. Every craft guild used to have its patron saint and martyr, so Alkan the elder, the virtuoso pianist whom Liszt admired, and who inherited Chopin’s pupils from him, must surely be the patron saint of demented book collectors.” (pages 12-13)
This Edition: Hardcover published by MacLehose Press (2010) – Translated by Sian Reynolds
You Might Also Like: The Book On The Bookshelf by Henry Petroski