[Nicholas A. Basbanes: A Gentle Madness (1995)]
From: David Howard
Sent: Wednesday, 16 December 2009 8:32 p.m.
To: Jack Ross
I have just visited your library catalogue. Of course, I love you - and part of what I love in you is your precision. But you are certifiable.
Please offer my sympathies to Bronwyn.
It's hard to deny the logic of David's remarks. The whole thing seems pretty crazy to me, too, some - even most - of the time. Hence ( I suppose) my choice of title for this bibliography blog: A Gentle Madness.
Interestingly, in the 1999 paperback reissue of his fascinating account of "Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books," Nicholas Basbanes mentions that at least one of his featured collectors, a retired psychoanalyst, had expressed a certain disquiet over his choice of title: "We take madness very seriously in my line of work." [xxv].
Is it mad to collect books; and then, once you have them neatly ranged in bookcases, to catalogue them by location and category? Surely not. Professional librarians would be in a lot of trouble if one were to resort to such facile diagnoses. Like most manias, it's clearly a matter of proportion.
- When you find yourself going in to debt to buy new books, even though you don't have enough space to display the existing ones, I think you could be said to have edged over from Bibliophilia to Bibliomania. It is, I have to say, a terrifyingly easy step to take.
- When you no longer read the books you buy, for fear of damaging them, or because their contents no longer interest you as much as their bindings, fonts, paperstock and other physical traits, you've ceased to be a book-lover and have become a mere collector.
- When you're forced to buy multiple copies of the same book, or even of the different impressions of a particular edition of a book, you've become a bibliographer, not a reader.
I'd like to believe that I'm still a bibliophile rather than a bibliomaniac, a reader rather than a collector, and that I acquire them for use rather than for show. You may think otherwise when you check out the online catalogue, though.
I hasten to say that it's very much a work in progress. In the geographical section, mapping the locations of the various books, 7 out of 26 bookcases, containing an estimated 6,000-odd books, remain to be catalogued - which might be seen as overshadowing the 8,562 already listed.
The 30-odd classificatory categories, too, are by no means complete. I haven't yet had time to reconcile them all with one another, and the larger pages are already starting to groan at the seams.
Why am I even bothering? Well, first of all, it's nice to take out every book and take a good look at it (discovering little treasures which one had forgotten ever getting is a lot of fun, too). Secondly, it's useful and (ultimately, I hope) timesaving to know where everything is. Thirdly, it saves one the trouble of rewriting out the bibliographical details of a book more than once, when it's being repeated in a number of different contexts.
That last one sounds a little unconvincing, I suppose, but when your book collection shadows your professional interests as closely as mine does, it really does make sense to have a complete catalogue.
Strangely enough, even though my reasons for putting this slowly-evolving print catalogue up online were purely practical - it enables me to access it wherever I happen to be working - I've found that it seems to be attracting a certain amount of interest. The blog has no fewer than five followers already, though I can't think what satisfaction they obtain from watching it slowly grow.
Maybe they just like to look at the pictures. I have to say that finding appropriate images to attach to the various entries is the only really fun part of the whole monstrous drudgery. When it's all finished, though, how I shall gloat and preen myself! Perhaps I really will run mad ...
[Charles Wysocki: Max in the Stacks]