28 December 2005

On new bookshelves

As my diligent readers will have noted (if there are any; this page does not appear on the site stats, so I am writing to thin air, or "semi-privately", as a regular correspondent puts it) — I am into building built-in furniture in the study. The wardrobe is complete, and I have now done half the bookshelves.

Trivial task? Yes, but only at one level. The study has been improvised for the past ten years; it evolved to meet the needs of the moment. More books? Find another stretch of wall to put up shelves (including above the door, an oft-neglected place). Insufficient electric points? Plug in a new four-way extension; and so on. Now, under pressure from my wife, I am not merely re-building the opportunistic hovel, but having to impose some rationale on it.

And that it is the rub. Just as Thoreau warns us to "beware any enterprise which requires new clothes" and C Northcote Parkinson's lesser known "law" is "During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death." (Parkinson, 1958)

So the opportunity/imperative to remodel my clunky study may represent the zenith (and hence the imminent decline) of my productivity! Why? Not because of a superstitious belief in Parkinson, but because I have had to take all my books off my shelves, and I shall have to put them back. But their order has evolved (and I use the term advisedly) over the past twelve years, since we moved to this house. Those in current use have been promoted to the shelves in front of the computer, and the spaces they have vacated on the other side of the room have periodically been reorganised to close the gaps. (This is leaving aside the new books, which graduate from a "current reading" shelf to somewhere else, as I finish them.) So the arrangement of the books reflects my interests; and I occasionally have a fun/frustrating hunt for one which has dropped back. But I can't reload my new shelves like that, if only because I can't remember it all, and the logistics of piling them up in the spare bedroom (thank goodness we had no overnight visitors over Christmas!) have violated the order. So I shall have to resort to a proto-Dewey classification, and twelve years of organic ordering have been lost.

I may well donate many of them to Oxfam; after all, if I can't remember why I have them, why keep them? But, just but, I may occasionally feel, "I know I've got something on that somewhere—now, where is it?"...


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