This is absolutely the last post here. Anything else will be at that other place. But my friend Paul Cella has tagged me for what he calls that "Book Tag parlor game," and I can't turn him down. Paul, by the way, will be in Denver during the U.S. Women's Open, so there's a real good chance I'll get to see him again. Last time was in Atlanta for the Chik-fil-A tournament. Pretty cool, huh? Paul's got himself a real nice family going. Cute wife, two cute kids, and more on the way. No, no, don't read too much into that. I'm not saying she's pregnant or anything; I just figure that's how it's going to go. She (the wife) is an athlete, by the way. Ex-athlete, she modestly demurs, but she accompanied Paul to the golf course not too long ago (Paul loves golf) and actually played a round with him. Stop it. Not 'played around' but a-round-of-golf. Don't worry, Paul. I'm not going to reveal what she (rather immodestly) told me. A man's ego can absorb only so much abuse; I know, being in possession of the bruised version myself.
Oh yes, books. Nearly forgot.
1. Number of books I own. Be honest now: how many of you who have answered this question have actually counted them? That's what I thought. How many of you are willing to take the time to actually count them? That's what I thought. Everyone's answering but no one knows the answer. An attempt at honesty is made a la Cella - probably several hundred - but, really, this is most unsatisfactory. What does 'several' mean? Two, three, four, five hundred? Is six hundred books 'several hundred' or 'several hundreds' of books? More than five hundred but less than a thousand? But how would you know if you haven't counted them? Have you considered the difficulty of making such an estimate? Have you any experience at estimating numbers of books based on size and shelf space? Do you, like me, have paperbacks and hardbacks sitting side-by-side? Are some of the books thin and some very thick? Do you, like me, have books scattered throughout the house, under the sofa, on the coffee table, etc.? I am at this moment looking at a shelf in the back study in which the books (mostly various English texts) are lying on their side. Does this allow for more or fewer books per shelf than those standing on end?
Furthermore, what kinds of books am I allowed to count? Cookbooks, some of which I have never opened and whose ownership did not originate with me but were inherited? I know you will allow The Harvard Classics and The Great Books Series and my collection of every book Joseph Conrad ever wrote. But what about the three sets of encylopedias? Is that one book or many? How about the books in the kids' rooms left over from infancy, things like "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears"? It's paper thin but I could get away with counting it as a really short book. How about "The Gingerbread Man"? Run, run, as fast as you can..." I insist on being allowed to count the telephone book. Books, in our case. BellSouth keeps throwing them on the porch of the main house and another set in front of the guest house, thinking it a separate entity. On top of that, out of some peculiar perversity (that redundancy is to keep TSO awake) or perhaps sheer laziness, we haven't thrown any of them away since 2001. They are stacked beneath a little table in the hallway, and sometimes I stand there and admire them, considering what fine doorstops they would make, or pondering whether they might hold down a roof tarp during the next hurricane. May I please,please,please count the four Haynes auto repair manuals I own for each of the cars? They're not exactly leisure reading but I do read them, and in precisely the way they were designed to be read. I caught a friend reading The DaVinci Code the other day (he's a mechanic, incidentally) and I'm sure he would be allowed to count it among the books he owns. But a Haynes auto repair manual is a far more worthy work for a number of reasons: first, it actually imparts accurate and useful knowledge; second, it does not consciously mislead you (tell lies); third, it does not presume to know what it cannot know but deals only with the facts at hand; fourth, it has no designs on destroying that which you hold most dear (your religion) but would in fact help you preserve that which you hold most dear (your car); fifth, the prose is better; sixth, there will be no sequel. The conclusion will be satisfactory because each manual begins and ends with your car. If you get another car (as would be the case should you get another religion), you will need another manual.
No, I think the only satisfactory answer to the question How many books do you own? is a numerically precise one based on a universally allowable standard as to what is admissible. And yet...I remain plagued by the reservation that even a number won't satisfy. Is there some kind of numerical oneupmanship involved? If you told me that you owned one thousand books to my five hundred, I would quickly conclude that you are probably the kind of person who spends more money than I do on books you will never read. Have you ever walked into a house in which the display of books strikes you as ostentatious? In the living room, the den, the study? (These days people escort you to their 'office,' where a computer is the centerpiece. Some people actually work from home, but normally when someone opens the door to his office, what he really means is that this is where he pays the utility bill and watches the stock ticker on the screen.) You may not be sure why the display seems pretentious. Perhaps it is that the wooden shelves shine with fresh furniture polish, and that the books upon them are all arranged according to height. What you are looking at is not the library of an avid reader, but the acquisitions of someone who likes putting his possessions on display. Real readers know how to leave things lying around, usually to the annoyance of other family members, and they could care less what the shelf looks like as long as it can bear its burden. Planks and cinder blocks will do. But for the displayer of books, it's of no consequence whether he owns one or one million.
And to cast further doubt on the validity of a number, let us suppose that you had only one book to your name. Let us further suppose that that book is the Bible. You would then have in your possession the greatest work of art ever limned by the hand of man. It brims with poetry, with outrageous, fantastical and very down-to-earth stories whose bones are fleshed out with plenty of violence, gore, sexual shenanigans, war and peace, feast and famine, saints and sinners, miracles and misfortunes. It is "inclusive" in a way with which the modern mind has great difficulty, for it maintains that evil is real and that the devil has not merely a role but a name. It tells the story of man from its beginning to its end and contains, should you choose so to believe, all the truth you will ever need. In short, the Bible is unbeatable, and I would pit it against all the others on earth without having to maintain that the others have no place or are in some way superfluous; just that all the others of any merit are doing yeoman's work. They are apprentices in the workshop of the Great Craftsman.
So...what's in a number?
Now, this book tag game has five parts, and it has just occurred to me that at this rate I will never finish. So can I skip the rest?