Dusting the Book Shelves

Book Shelves

A summer chore was to dust the book shelves in my home.  As you can see, the shelves (There are two more bays of shelves to the right.)  have an open design thus collecting their share of dust and incidentally also a thin film of cooking grease that wafts out of the kitchen. As I worked, I was struck by how much of what I touched is now obsolete.

The shelves hold other objects that just books.  Some are artifacts from the past – pictures of my parents, a toy passenger rail car that my dad built, the odd gift or piece of art – not obsolete but providing mostly nostalgia value.  There is a shelf of CD’s and DVD’s and video tapes all superseded by internet streaming services.  There are board games. Do I really need three scrabble sets?  The games are kept for possible interested visitors who never appear.  The shelves also contain six or seven Go sets.  I only need one. The others gather dust.

The books are arranged by type.  There is a shelf of Go books, some in Japanese which I can’t read.  I might dip into them in an idle moment but the totality is more than I could ever read and learn from for the rest of my life.  There are reference books. We sent the Encyclopedia Britannica to the dump years ago but still there are dictionaries, atlases and the like – even the complete Shakespeare with print too small for old eyes.  All these have been superseded by the internet.  Speaking of atlases, part of a shelf has a pile of maps now made obsolete by their age and google maps.  Nostalgic value only.  There are how-to books – knitting, knotting, auto mechanics, hiking, carpentry, etc.  Now if I want to know how-to, I search youtube.

We used to collect what I call idea books – The Black Swan or Consilience for example.  These are good for lending without expectation of return but have not been and never will be reread.  Valuable ideas sitting dormant.  Other books – novels, popular science also lie fallow on the shelves.

Then there is the floor to ceiling collection of math books on the left.  Many of them I have read but few have I mastered.  My college notes are also there.  These math books now exist as a reminder of knowledge I will never have – what I don’t have time to learn if I could.  At this point if I need to know about a mathematical topic I go to the internet.

So what is the purpose of my book shelves.  They provide wistful ambiance from my past life and a stab of regret for paths not taken.  As my friend Barry the golfer remarked, his book shelves just provide a decorative background for his television set.  Mine just adorn the north side of the living room.

About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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2 Responses to Dusting the Book Shelves

  1. Nick says:

    Many of the things on my bookshelf would have become obsolete (to me, at least) with or without the internet — I don’t really want to revisit my topology texts (apologies to C. Feist). These became instant artifacts of an educational ritual I took part in.
    I have become more cautious in giving items to people. I handmade a fairly large gift for someone once, and I learned that they kept it, mostly unused, in their tiny apartment where it would sometimes get in the way as they walked to the kitchen. I finally said “Oh, please give it to someone else who has room — do not feel tied to it as though I would be offended if it wasn’t with you.” They were building a collection of things they couldn’t keep, and I was asking a lot of them by giving it.
    As you say, many things become reminders of knowledge I will never have — or skills I will never improve, or people I will never see again. Many of them also remind me that one time I held a particular interest, or found something funny, or learned something about myself or the world. Maybe I like things that used to make me feel a certain way — not that they’ll do so again, but the memory is still there.

    Incidentally, you can absolutely get rid of that tiny Go board I made you if it ever gets in your way. 🙂

    • jrh794 says:

      Nick, I treasure that tiny Go board. It is on my shelve of artifacts just to the left of my desk here at SOU. It reminds me of you and Go and what’s not to like. Thanks for the comment.

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