The Book Problem

Hello. My name is Peter and I am a bookaholic …

Well, perhaps it isn’t quite as bad as that. But I’ve certainly bought far too many books over the years. Forty-five years as a grad student and a lecturer, maybe acquiring forty or more work-related books of one kind or another a year (research, “keeping up”, books for teaching, books outside my interests that colleagues recommend, passing fads …). It’s pretty easy to do. Especially if you have something of a butterfly mind. That easily tots up to some 1800 philosophy and logic books. OK, OK, round that up to 2000. Ridiculous, I know. (Though not quite so mad as it might seem, having spent a long time in places without the stella library facilities of Cambridge.)

Chez Logic Matters (sort of ...)

Retiring and losing office space means there is now a serious Book Problem (ok, we’re certainly talking a First World problem here: bear with me). I’ve already given away a third. But now at home we want to do some more re-organization, which will mean losing quite a bit of bookshelving. So lots more must go. Dammit, the house is for us, not the books. One hears tell of retiring academics who have built an extension at home for their library or converted a garage into a book store. But that way madness lies (not to mention considerable expense). And anyway, what would keeping thirty-year-old one-quarter-read philosophy books actually be for? Am I going to get down to reading them now? In almost every case, of course not!

“A little library, growing larger every year, is an honourable part of a man’s history. It is a man’s duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessaries of life.” Yes. But let “little” be the operative word!

Or so I now tell myself. Still it was — at the beginning — not exactly painless to let old friends go, or relinquish books that I’d never got that friendly with but always meant to, or give away those reproachful books that I ought to have read, and all the rest. After all, there goes my philosophical past, or at any rate the past I would have wanted to have (and similar rather depressing thoughts).

But I think I’ve now got a grip. It’s a question of stopping looking backwards and instead thinking, realistically, about what I might want to think about seriously over the coming few years, and then aiming to cut right down to (a still generous) working library around and about that. So instead of daunting shelves of books reminding me about what I’m not going to do, there’ll be a much smaller and more cheering collection of books to encourage me in what I might really want to do. The power of positive thinking, eh?

At least, that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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3 Responses to The Book Problem

  1. Hi Peter:

    As a fellow bookaholic with a butterfly mind, I cannot but sympathize with your predicament. Good luck trying to figure out where your mind might want to wander in the many fruitful years of retirement ahead of you!
    (And if you need to find a good home for the books you cannot keep, remember that you’ll always find another bookaholic that won’t be able to decline such an offer ;-)

    • Peter Smith says:

      Well, yes, you’ve put your finger on the problem — how to predict future interests! I’m just having to rely on naive induction. It seems that in recent years I’ve gravitated back very much to logic and philosophy of maths (which is what got me interested in philosophy in the first place). I’ve more than enough projects there that I fantasise about taking on …

      • I’m sorry to hear you don’t plan to do any more work on chaos (but hopefully your butterfly mind is chaotic (in the technical sense ;-)) and you are at present just unable to predict that it will wander in that direction again!).

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