Stamp: Catalogued on LibraryThing

The Final Shape of My Library

Notable Non-Acquisitions

To begin with, some fail. A couple of weeks ago I put out a request for recommendations. Most of the suggestions I ended up with came face-to-face from family members, but two dudes on Twitter also chimed in. They suggested two books – The Dice Man and All the Light We Cannot See – that sounded interesting and thought-provoking, and one – The Screwtape Letters – that is a longstanding favorite of mine.

I didn’t get any of those books. I looked for them, but either I was looking in the wrong sections, or the stores were just plumb out. This was especially weird in the case of All the Light We Cannot See, which as a recent bestseller and generally huge book should have been somewhere in Barnes & Noble. (Actually, d’oh, I just realized I was looking for it in general fiction instead of in the bestsellers antighetto. I may have missed out on it just by failing to think like a bookstore.)

(About The Screwtape Letters: I gave away my latest copy because it had these icky, whimsical illustrations that made me unwilling to open it. I thought I’d be getting a new one for Christmas, but something in the hints-and-wishes machine must have broken down.)

Why, you ask, can’t I just acquire these good books at my leisure and add them in then? Because I planned to freeze my library at the start of the project, and I’m sticking to that plan. Pointless rigidity, missed opportunities, and the enforcement of a creeping sense of failure are what this project is all about.

The Last Additions

I originally thought I might be opening book-shaped Christmas presents until Epiphany (hence the mention of January 6th in the intro post), but as it turned out, I got my last two on the 30th and 31st of December. One was City of God, from my father; the other was Karmen MacKendrick’s Divine Enticement, from either my grandmother, my uncle, or my grandmother and my uncle (this could stand to be cleared up, though they would tell me it doesn’t matter).

One Blank Space

Finally, one book that I consider part of my library isn’t actually in my hands yet. It’s The Private Life of Lord Byron, which is being got up by subscription (or “crowdfunded,” as the kids are saying these days) and which I reckon will be published some time during the course of this project. I signed on a good long time ago, and as far as I’m concerned the copy that I shall have is already “mine.” Imagine, if you like, a little block of wood on my shelf, holding its place.


I have 263 books catalogued now – so, including The Private Life of Lord Byron, 264 in all. This divides neatly into a 3-year reading plan, 88 books a year. So a year from now, I hope to have gotten as far as Cathedrals of the World.

I’ll probably be doing something about my very dirty metadata in the future, so classifications may change, but for now here’s the breakdown of books by Melvil Decimal class:

  • 2 in the 000s
  • 9 in the 100s
  • 49 in the 200s
  • 12 in the 300s
  • 11 in the 400s
  • 2 in the 500s
  • 9 in the 700s
  • 158 in the 800s
  • 9 in the 900s

(I never read novels and yet like a quarter of my library is novels. Go figure.)

I’ve already entered some 200 of these books in my Goodreads account. I’ll get the rest done, eh, sometime.

Influx, Part III: New Books! Brand New Books!

My grandma, you guys! As I said, she took me out to Barnes & Noble this afternoon and got me many many books. These books:

  • Reading the Silver Screen: Introduction to film analysis: a general text to serve as an entrée to books about specific topics (namely, film noir and portrayals of antiquity).
  • Cathedrals of the World: A second poppy, picture-heavy book about church architecture – this time in English.
  • Classical Gods and Heroes and Tales of Norse Mythology: Serious mythology books to accompany Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes.
  • Judaism for Dummies: Because I actually know nothing about Judaism? And that’s a damn shame.
  • Church History in Plain Language: Because I also know less than I ought to about my own faith. Best of all, the author is a Protestant, so I can trust that his prejudices are different from mine.
  • History of Philosophy by Julián Marías: Context and gapfill for the small amount of Western philosophy I have in my library. Coincidentally, I’ll probably end up tackling it just about the time I get caught up on Peter Adamson’s podcast.
  • De rerum natura as translated by A. E. Stallings: I’m just here for her.
  • The “No Fear” Canterbury Tales: Partly because I haven’t actually read much Chaucer, partly because it’s an amusing concept. (The No Fear series started out as a set of “translations” of Shakespeare and other basically-already-modern-English works into chatty contemporary prose, which was a newish idea. But now it seems they’ve expanded the brand to incorporate a translation from Middle English – something people have been doing for a century, easy. Their new thing worked out so well it turned into an old thing: I find that funny.)
  • The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories: Because all the Lovecraft I had was the two stories in the back of that Michel Houellebecq book. And because I haven’t read At the Mountains of Madness yet. And because the page-edges are black where you’d maybe expect them to be gilded, and I’m susceptible enough to think that’s cool.
  • Neuromancer: Owned it once. Read half of it. Really liked that half. Put it down one day and didn’t pick it up again except to sell it. (I do this a lot, even or especially with books I really like, for no other reason than that I am flaky and suck.)
  • The Fault in Our Stars: My sister told me not to read it (the implication being that it would somehow turn me basic). And Steven Greydanus said interesting things about the film version.

My tendency here seems to be to want to supplement or expand on things that are already in my library. I am more and more thinking of this as a curriculum, as a chance to pick up the kind of broad-but-interconnected education I didn’t quite get at university.

Influx, Part II: The Goodwill

Well! Since my previous post even, I’ve been to yet another bookstore – a regular first-run house, a Barnes & Noble in fact – and thanks to the   e x t r a v a g a n t   generosity of my grandmother I have a dozen more titles than I did three hours ago. But I planned to write about the Goodwill first. I bought some sixteen titles that I have catalogued in my own library, plus a few others that I gave to my sister, and I don’t mean to list them all. Suffice it to say that it is really remarkable what you will find at the Goodwill.

Granted, it’s mostly the kind of books people get rid of – bestsellers of yesteryear, self-help books, pop-religion – but then in the midst of all that there will be something odd and wonderful. Like a book of 18th-century afterpieces, or The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (a poet I admire all out of proportion to how much of his work I have actually read), or an ex-library copy of Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (which I bought on Kindle, back when I had a Kindle, but never did read). Or books with titles like Epiphany in the Modern Novel and French Novelists: Manners and Ideas from the Renaissance to the Revolution (both ones that my sister snapped up). You honest-to-Elinore don’t know what you’ll find.

Influx, Part I: Half Price Books

In the past week I’ve gotten out to two of my bookbuying destinations: Half Price Books and the Goodwill (also Sam’s Club, but let’s not talk about that). So here are some notes on the new acquisitions, starting with the HPB stuff.


  • Pride and Prejudice: Picked up from the paperback racks; I figured I ought to read it some time, since everybody talks about it constantly always. (Horrible confession time: I’m always a little suspicious of people praising female authors, because you never know when they’re being earnest and when it’s a patronizing affirmative-action type thing. But Austen is such an eminence, and has been for so long, that I can believe she is immune to all that.)
  • The Plague: I saw that my mother had picked up a copy, and decided I really ought to reread it. She had gotten the cheapest one, but luckily there were more.
  • Lost Horizon: A recommendation from an aunt. I’m leery: her tastes and mine aren’t too congruent. But eh, it’s short.
  • The Outsiders: My sister’s rec. I’m actually kind of looking forward to this one.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King: Mismatched-cover paperbacks. My uncle’s recs. Like Pride and Prejudice, I suppose this is one of those works everybody has to read eventually. (Further confessions: I saw like the first two movies and, sorry, they left me cold. Also, exposure to the all creepy at the periphery of fandom scared me off Tolkien for a long time. But I really loved his translation of Pearl, which I read in college last year, so it’ll be interesting to take a chance on his prose.)
  • The Man of Bronze: I glimpsed this in the Very Old Paperbacks racks near the entrance… after I’d already checked out. I’d been interested in reading one of the original Doc Savage books ever since I attempted a portion of one of Philip José Farmer’s unpleasant fanfics – as far as I could determine, everything I didn’t like about that was Farmer’s own invention, and everything I did like about it was from the source. So I grabbed it and got back in line.


  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: I picked this up, frankly, as broccoli reading. My collection is very short on African-American voices, and on American history in general. And while it’s probably too late to produce some kind of total, balanced curriculum here (even if I wanted to), those are some serious deficiencies.
  • Elizabethan Village: I have an abiding, if very low-level, interest in Early Modern stuff. And it was cheap.
  • The Prince: My brother recommended this. He would.
  • Five Dialogues of Plato: More broccoli reading. My collection is really, super, stupid short on philosophy. And I’ve never really read Plato, outside of bits and pieces in philosophy class – sharply excerpted, and heavily annotated and explained, so that you were not knowing the original texts so much as as kissing their veil.

In Russian

  • The Lonely Planet phrasebook: I’d gotten this out of the library before, and my main impression at that time was that I wished I owned it. I have another phrasebook, a reprint of a Cold War-era text, but it’s nice to supplement it with something contemporary.
  • Фантом памяти (Phantom Memory, or Phantom of Memory, or something like that), by Alexandra Marinina. Yes: I bought. A novel. In Russian. I don’t read Russian. But maybe, in a couple of years when I get to it, I’ll be able to struggle through.
  • Воскресение (Resurrection), by Tolstoy: Like the above, but more so. When I hit this one, I figure I’ll either produce some of the most entertaining writing of my life, or quit the project (and possibly human society) altogether.

The Recommendations

UPDATE (1/1/’17): Recommendations are no longer being accepted. The library is frozen; the project has begun!

I recently put out a request for recommendations as I finalize the contents of my library. This post is to collect the suggestions people have made so far. An asterisk indicates a book I now have a copy of.

Omega Library Logo

Introduction (Very Short Version)

Hi! My name is Sara Bickley. Starting in 2017, I’m planning to read all 200-odd books in my personal library and blog about them. (I expect this to take about three years.) Once the project begins, my collection will be frozen: I will neither acquire nor let go of any books.

Links of Potential Interest

What’s Missing from This Collection? You Tell Me

UPDATE (1/1/’17): Recommendations are no longer being accepted. The library is frozen; the project has begun!

So January draws nigh, and I’m finalizing the list of books I’ll read over the coming three years or so. I’ve pulled a few volumes to give to relatives or to sell. I’ve asked for some books for Christmas (The Screwtape LettersCity of God, and a couple of others that escape me at the moment). But further changes are always possible.

In fact, the main thing that strikes me about my library right now is how gappy it is. And rather than rely on my own (historically unreliable) guesses as to what I might want to read in the future, I’ve decided to throw it to you, my readers. All three to five of you.

I’d be pretty seriously obliged if you’d suggest one or two books I should read in the coming years. Feel free to leave suggestions either in the comments to this post, or on Twitter. (UPDATE: Or on Goodreads.)

My full catalog is here, if you want to see what I’ve already got. It’s heavy on Christianity and pre-20th-century British lit, and distressingly light on history, literary criticism, and film. I’m open to anything, though (for what it’s worth, I’ve not yet read a Russian novel); the only things I won’t consider are a) specialist works in the hard sciences and b) porn.

Now, I’m not made of money. (My parents are, but they’re also a little smarter than your average Giving Tree.) So depending on the number of responses and their nature, I’ll do one or more of the following:

  • Arrange a runoff poll to narrow the suggestions to a purchasable-before-the-end-of-the-year number
  • Pick a few titles at random
  • Just print off all the responses and see if Half Price Books has any of them the next time I go

Whichever books I do end up with, I promise I’ll read them. That’s part of the plan.