Not the Library of Congress

Surprisingly, to anyone who has ever seen my desk, I actually quite like things to be neatly ordered and systematic.  I don’t usually achieve the perfection I aspire to, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.

One place where my semi-realised dreams of organisational efficiency are manifested is on my bookshelves.  I’ve been thinking (on and, mostly, off) about this for a few days since somebody asked me what system I had for arranging my books on the shelf (just after I’d directed them to a particular book by referring to the colour of its cover).

As a keen bibliophile, I have quite a few books (I haven’t counted them, but it’s certainly into the thousands).  In order to have any hope of finding any given book that I may be looking for in my collection, it’s necessary to have some kind of system for organising them.  In general, I like to try and arrange my books along roughly thematic lines.  For instance, all my poetry books are on one shelf, my Welsh language books are on another and my graphic novels more-or-less all together somewhere else.

There are sometimes problems caused by the refusal of books to sit nicely within a single tightly-defined category.  For instance, do I put my Welsh poetry books with my other books in Welsh or with the rest of my poetry books? (The answer, at least for most of them and for the moment, is that they are on my poetry shelf; similarly my Welsh translations of Asterix and Tintin books (one apiece, so far) are with my other graphic novels; a few others are collected together with other books in their subject area but most of them, including all the prose fiction, are together in one place.)

Another constraint is the physical size of the shelves. It’s sometimes necessary to put my bigger books on a given topic on one shelf and the smaller ones on another shelf, since I don’t have enough big shelves to accommodate all my books (actually, I don’t quite have enough shelves at all for all my books, but that’s a different issue).

Within a given subject area, I like to try and group together all the books by a single author, or in a series, but otherwise I don’t generally try to go for anything like alphabetical order.  Occasionally, if I’m feeling extra organised, I might do something like arrange all my poetry volumes in roughly chronological order, but such a level of organisation doesn’t usually last very long.

My book filing system may not be anything like as sophisticated as the established library cataloguing systems such as the Dewey Decimal system (used in most British public libraries) or the Library of Congress system (used by all the university libraries I’ve visited and, presumably, also by the Library of Congress), but it is certainly adequate for a library of my size.  It also leaves open some space for the philosophy of serendipity practiced by my PhD supervisor.  He steadfastly refused to institute any kind of ordered filing system for the vast quantity of books and papers crammed into his office, claiming that even if he was unable to find the paper he was looking for at any given time he would be almost certain to turn up a few forgotten gems while looking for it.

These days, of course, my dead-tree-edition books are only part (though, for the moment at least, still the major part) of my library as I now make fairly extensive use of e-books too, mostly on my Kindle.  Apart from not taking up physical space, which is at a premium in my small bungalow, they have the benefit that I can put each book into multiple categories in my collection rather than having to decide which of the candidate shelves to put it on and whether it will actually fit there.  Also it means I can take several hundred books with me whenever I go on holiday, rather than having to decide which few to take and how many I can get away with and still leave space for other useful items such as clothes and food.

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Evil Power Daleks

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently reading through my Doctor Who book collection. This is focused on the classic series (i.e. from its inception in 1963 to its cancellation in 1989; so far my only contact with the new series has been via the TV episodes, mostly on DVD). Although I also have a number of more-recently-written novels (including a few audiobooks) set in this era, the mainstay of my collection is novelisations of the original TV stories. By now, I have almost all the novelisations up to the end of the 5th Doctor’s tenure, with only two outstanding (there were also a handful of stories that were never officially novelised, but there are versions of them published by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club which are freely available online in PDF format – although the novelisations page seemed to be down when I last checked it). My collection for the remaining doctors has a few more gaps but I’m less worried by them since I remember watching the stories that are missing from my novel collection and some of them weren’t that great.

The two missing novels from my early Doctor Who collection are the two dalek stories from the Patrick Troughton era. Both of these were novelised (sometime in the late 1980s, I think) by John Peel (not the radio DJ) but unfortunately they are long out-of-print and copies are now quite expensive to procure. I have not yet managed to find a copy of either book for a price that I’m willing to pay. However, all is not lost as I have managed to get copies of both stories in other formats (not DVD, as both are among the missing stories from the early years of Doctor Who).

The first of the two stories is The Power of the Daleks, which is an especially significant story as it was Troughton’s first (and therefore the first story ever – not counting the two dalek movies of the early 1960s – to feature a doctor other than William Hartnell). I have got a copy of the TV script for this one (which, along with several other Doctor Who scripts, was published in the early 1990s). Reading a script is, in some ways (and perhaps unsurprisingly), rather similar to reading a play and requires somewhat more effort than reading a novel to keep track of all the characters and to imagine how the lines might be delivered.

The other story is The Evil of the Daleks, which was the first story of the next season (season 5) and marked the introduction of the character of Victoria Waterfield, who went on to travel with the Doctor and Jamie for the remainder of that season (before being replaced by Zoe, who is a strong contender for my favourite companion ever). This one I have in audiobook format. They have used the audio track from the original story (which, unlike the video, still exists in its entirety) and supplemented it with some fill-in narration from Frazer Hines (the actor who played Jamie, although he doesn’t put on a Scottish accent for the narration) to explain the bits that are not conveyed by the dialogue.

Both the script and the audiobook provide quite a different experience from reading a novelisation. On balance I prefer the novel format, which I think holds up better as an alternative to actually watching the stories. If I get a chance to get the novels of these two stories without having to mortgage any body parts to pay for them, I think I will do so. However, it is quite nice by way of change to approach these stories via alternative media and it is certainly better than having them completely absent from my collection.

As I write this, I am listening to the final chapter of The Evil of the Daleks. This illustrates one benefit of audiobooks over printed novels, in that you can listen to them while doing other stuff (although potentially at the cost of sacrificing some of your attention from the story).

Happy Birthday to Who

Today is the 49th anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who, which went out at around tea-time on Saturday 23rd November 1963 (slightly delayed by a newsflash relating to the assassination of President Kennedy, which took place the previous day).

For the past month or so I’ve been watching through, and adding to, my Doctor Who DVD collection and I’ve also been intending to re-read my fairly extensive collection of Doctor Who books. The latter includes most of the novelisations of the classic TV series (at least up to the end of Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor; my coverage of the last few seasons is much more patchy) as well as a few original novels set during the same period. I don’t yet have any of the novels based on the new series and I’m not currently planning to extend my collection in this direction.

The birthday of Doctor Who seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss and, since I don’t want to wait another whole year (for the half-century) before I begin, I decided to start my latest read through today. The last time I attempted this feat was about 7 years ago and I got about half way through the Tom Baker era stories (in fact, roughly to the point the series had reached by the time I was born, I think) before getting side-tracked to other projects. This time, I intend to read my entire Doctor Who library, which includes quite a few books that I have added to my collection more recently. I’ve no idea how long it will take to get through the whole lot. On the one hand, most of the books are fairly short and don’t take long to read, but on the other hand there are over 150 of them and I’m certainly not intending to completely give up reading other stuff while I read Doctor Who.

I plan to read the books in chronological order (as listed in the Doctor Who Reference Guide). The first book in my collection is that of the first televised serial, An Unearthly Child. Coincidentally, that was one of the first two Doctor Who books I got (along with The Loch Ness Monster – the novelisation of the story Terror of the Zygons), back in the very early 1980s. As I recall, they belonged to my big brother, who gave them to me when he no longer wanted them (at least, I hope he didn’t want them back!).