The Great Book Collection Merger

Observant, 8 January 2015

This Christmas, we finally got around to a much-anticipated post-wedding activity: the Great Book Collection Merger. Nothing spells permanency like his books and my books, all together under one Amsterdam roof.

The travel section is now above the TV. Antiquity to the left, philosophy to the right. The Latin dictionaries were relegated to the lowest shelf; stooping is never fun, but then, the probability of chancing upon a Roman is low. By the record player are 13 books on Bob Dylan (not mine); rivalling but not quite topping that are 12 books with ‘Einstein’ in the title (definitely not mine).

The classification system was not unproblematic. For example, can 1001 problems in stochastic calculus really be considered ‘popular’? Moreover: should all popular books live together and, elsewhere, all academic books, irrespective of theme? Or should popular books and academic books on the same topic be merged?

I explained this dilemma to Rutger-Jan using a handy 2*2 matrix (popular physics, academic physics, popular linguistics, academic linguistics). He nodded gravely, and thought about this for a few hours while he labelled each individual cable in our electrical wiring systems.

“There may be another way”, he announced over lunch (square poached eggs, to match the shape of the bread). The academic books tend to be hardcover; the popular books are mostly paperbacks. “We’ll class them by format.”

Later, a related topic arose. Should all Dutch books live together and all English books together? Or does topic trump language, such that both English and Dutch books on the financial crisis, say, or the perfect tennis backhand form a coherent whole?

The idea of separating languages was dismissed as burgerlijk. “As though language makes a difference”, Rutger-Jan sniffed. I suggested the same must hold for my German-language collection, but this was roundly vetoed. In fairness, we had just been to see the Soldier of Orange musical, so patriotism was running high.

Burgerlijk, incidentally, is a recent addition to my vocabulary. Since we got engaged, people have asked whether we will live in Cambridge or Amsterdam. “As though we have to choose just the one”, we scoffed. “Burgerlijk.”

Thing is, the books are here now. There’s no going back.

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