Turns out that the two of us have accumulated over 6,000 of them.
Last year, hypothermya introduced me to a rather interesting Web 2.0 site called LibraryThing. I had a go at entering a few books, but I just didn’t have the stomach for the daunting task of entering it all by hand. After getting my 3000+ works of fiction into the ReaderWare database, though, I checked back at LibraryThing, and discovered that they have a bulk upload feature that takes ISBNs. So I dumped the whole database up there.
ISBNs are not entirely unique identifiers, so it’s necessary to go over these things with a fine tooth comb. I’ve also been collecting relevant hyperlinks such as author home pages, weblogs, and wikipedia pages, though those are only in my ReaderWare database as there’s no useful way to put them on LibraryThing as yet. And I’ve finally finished my first pass through my fiction section, and I think I have at least 99% of the books in the house now in the database. (Next thing to do is to start tagging all the works that have won or been finalists for various awards.)
You can look at my LibraryThing profile, see the linear catalogue, or try the author cloud or tag cloud as alternative ways of navigating the collection. Feedback from my manga-literate friends on the manga collection is particularly welcome; I’ve been going by Wikipedia’s notions of shōnen and shōjo, but would appreciate the insight of the connoisseurs. obsessivewoman’s collection is mostly tagged cookbook and mystery; she hasn’t had as much time to get into the detailed tagging as I have.
Then I picked up Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, and I found out. The book is set in India in 2047, following ten characters through a set of interlinked storylines that lead up to Big Things Happening, and any time that McDonald has to choose between an Indian word for something and an English translation that would lose the nuance of India, he picks the Indian word— he won’t use “captain” when he means “subadar”. Like Stross, McDonald is careful to explain anything that you need to understand to enjoy the story, but puts in plenty of things that you can infer from context (and there’s a helpful glossary in the back of the book, too); again, this gives depth to the book’s world. I consider myself fairly cosmopolitan, but my reaction to River of Gods was: “This is good stuff! And wow am I ignorant about India!”
Now, I’ve got a very strong curiosity streak. I am no more capable of going through a book like River of Gods without looking up the places and ideas on the Web than I can go through Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun without hitting a dictionary. These are all good writers— they know how to make things obvious from context— but I can’t resist looking things up when I discover something I don’t know. The ultimate version of these books that I want to own (and I hope the publishers will be willing to create them before the copyrights run out) is the hypertext where I can trivially look up the Kardashev scale or illustrated descriptions of ghats any time I want to know more.
- Total number of books owned: Roughly 3000 fiction (counting graphic novels and tankouban), 1000 nonfiction, 500 gaming. These are wild estimates based on checking the book density of a few shelves and multiplying by the number of shelves. And this doesn’t count obsessivewoman’s collections of mysteries and cookbooks.
- Last book I bought: I could list the whole batch, but I think I’ll just mention the hardcovers: C J Cherryh’s Destroyer, the latest in the Foreigner sequence, and Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Crystal Soldier, the latest in the Liaden tales.
- Last book I read: Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds.
- Five books that mean a lot to me:
- “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard P. Feynman et al. — showed me that omnivorous curiosity and eccentricity were no bar to achievement.
- The Chanur Saga (The Pride of Chanur, Chanur’s Venture, The Kif Strike Back, Chanur’s Homecoming), by C J Cherryh — she does a damn good job of making her aliens alien.
- Crazy Wisdom, by Wes Nisker — makes metaphysical sense of the universe for me.
- The Annals of the Kencyrath (God Stalk, Dark of the Moon, Seeker’s Mask), by P C Hodgell — highly original fantasy.
- Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, by K Eric Drexler — the first milestone on a very interesting road that should eventually lead to kicking the legs out from under the status quo and creating a very interesting future.
- Honorable mention to the role-playing game Ars Magica, which got me hooked on going to historical sources for research.
- Tag 5 people and have them fill this out on their LJs: I insist that all memes must undergo ruthless selection. If you’re reading this and feel inspired to blog about your book collection, go ahead and propagate the meme. (If you’re curious about memetics, I recommend Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.)
The series thus far:
- In the Garden of Iden
- Sky Coyote
- Mendoza in Hollywood
- The Graveyard Game
- Black Projects, White Knights (short stories)
- The Life of the World to Come
Baker has also produced an excellent work of fantasy, The Anvil of the World. If you enjoy Peter David’s talents for seamlessly mixing drama and humor, you should like that one.
I’m just starting to re-read Charlie Stross’ Singularity Sky before plunging into Iron Sunrise. One of the benefits of being forgetful is the amount of delight I can find in re-reading books, as I remember ideas and general plots, but seldom the details, and a bit like this, from the first passage in the prologue:
By the end of that day, when the manna had begun to fall from orbit and men’s dreams were coming to life like strange vines blooming after rain in the desert, Rudi and his family— sick mother, drunken uncle, and seven siblings— were no longer part of the political economy of the New Republic.can provoke great glee as I anticipate the story’s unfolding.
War had been declared.
A while ago, I was watching an episode of Secret Passages on the preparations people took during the Cold War, and I suddenly noticed: I had, at some point in my life, quietly revised that chance of death-by-atomic-bomb down to “negligible”. I recognize that a rogue nation or terrorist group might get their hands on a handful of nukes, but I estimate the probability as too low to bother with— just keep the standard earthquake preparedness kit handy and don’t fret. I think somewhere between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, my hindbrain just wrote off the prospect of nuclear annihilation.
So shows like Secret Passages, or a chapter in The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, which I’m reading now, can remind me of those days. Looking back on the Cold War, now that I have a lot more perspective, I get a mixture of the chills at how close we came and relief at how far we’ve come and I don’t know what all else— it’s muddled. Weird. And then I remember how “weird” used to be much more related to the notion of “fate”, and that, I think, is the cherry on this peculiar emotional sundae.