Sunday, August 27, 2006

Of books and Bert

As I suggested a few days ago, the Web has given us unlimited new ways to waste our time. I found a new one the other day; the annoyingly compulsive LibraryThing. If you haven't discovered it yet, it's an online catalogue for your book collection. It sounds like the ultimate solipsist's daydream, where you can sit at your keyboard imagining yourself as some sort of tweedy don, bowtie and half-moon specs askew, sitting among your slightly foxed first editions and heavily-notated editions of Ovid and Wittgenstein (pencilled marginalia: "true - so true!").

But it's not like that, of course. On LibraryThing, your own list of books isn't in a vacuum. You're not just putting up things that you happen to own; you're putting up components of your cultural identity. Just as when you're appearing on a TV show, or writing a blog, you're creating an on-line simulacrum of yourself. And this is where things get fun. How honest are you? Do you simply stick up all the printed matter on your shelves, from Proust to pizza flyers? Or do you rationalise, consciously or unconsciously filtering out the dross to buff up your on-line identity, making your 'self' seem cleverer or cooler or sexier. As I've mentioned before, my shelves bear two copies of The Da Vinci Code. But, um, well, yeah, neither of them are actually mine - they were left behind by visitors. And they don't really sit very well next to the Austers and Murakamis, do they?

Your bibliodigital identity is constantly up there for admiration or derision, and above all, comparison. Alongside your user profile is a list of "Users with your books", which lists, in descending order, the users whose catalogues have most matches with your own; in a way, it's a much more sophisticated variation of those favourite books/films/music fields on the Blogger profile. And, inevitably, once I'd stuck in 300 titles, the member at third place on my list (matching a quarter of my entries) was a bloke I knew from university. Simulacrum and reality collide like Zidane and Materazzi.

More doodles in the margin of the last few days: apartheid gets the reality TV treatment; Bob Dylan declares that "I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past twenty years, really" (this from a man who lost his spark when he fell off his bike in '66, and don't give me Blood on the Tracks - one and a half great tracks do not a great album make); and I'm sure the intentions are good, but Ruth Kelly's Commission on Integration and Cohesion sounds disturbingly similar to the Taleban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice - and both sound like discarded song titles by Heaven 17.

And the obits seem to be piling up. The sad duty falls on me to record the passing of Bertie Bucket, aged about 12-ish, part Jack Russell, part Norfolk, part bundle of damp straw. He'd been ill for years, but rejoiced in disproving the pessimism of successive vets. They gave him three months, seven years ago. The end, when it came, was mercifully swift and apparently painless.

Bert brought love and laughter to all who encountered him, and was particularly popular with local urchins, who would follow him, chortling and pointing at his stumpy tail. His hobbies included eating things he wasn't supposed to, chasing crows, sunbathing, having his chest scratched, and wearing his smart blue jumper. Thanks to Small Boo's mum and sister, who had shared the exasperating but often highly comical task of tending to his peculiar needs since we moved abroad. It is apparently modish at times like these to suggest that pet and owner will meet "at the rainbow bridge" but Bert would have treated such hippy nonsense with a resonant fart. I'll miss the little bugger more than I can say.

PS: Small Boo would like to register her disgust that I am transforming a personal tragedy into a media event.


realdoc said...

'Or do you rationalise, consciously or unconsciously filtering out the dross to buff up your on-line identity, making your 'self' seem cleverer or cooler or sexier.'

well, they have the concept of guilty pleasures when it comes to ipods and music, doesn't seem to apply to books though.
ps I have the da Vinci Code too, someone gave it to me, I read it when I was bored, it's crap like eating junk food.

patroclus said...

Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Bertie Bucket.

Must check out Library Thing when I'm back on broadband - sounds like a booky version of, where I was amused to see both ex-Mr P and current Mr P eventually appearing over the digitally generated horizon to become musical 'neighbours' of mine.

And yes, I'm guilty of almost fanatical manipulation of my simulacrum. No one needs to know that I sometimes listen to Billie Piper singing 'Honey to the Bee' over and over again, for example.


Billy said...

What's interesting about for me is the music I thought I listened to and the music I actually listen to bear little resemblance to each other.

Dick Headley said...

RIP Bertie. I hope there are crows and bad things to eat in heaven. Dick.

Tim F said...

Doc: The notion of guilty pleasures does exist in literary circles, I'm sure, but actually specifying where it lies would be a toughie. Just watched a documentary about John Irving, where he describes how the US lit establishment looks down on him a bit, because his stuff is plot-driven, very 19th-century, entertaining - very much a guilty pleasure. But I'm sure there are lots of people who would find his stuff too erudite and taxing.

Patroclus/Billy: I've resisted, at least until I've got my current project out of the way. My current listening is dominated by 19-minute jazz piano renditions of Radiohead tunes. That's not just embarrassing, it's the sort of thing that might get me locked up.

And thanks, Patroc + DH for your kind words. St Peter (or more appropriately Charon) will know by now what it's like to have his leg humped.

epikles said...

Maybe Dylan literally just "doesn't know anybody".

The LibraryThing reminds me of a few things -
* people who have wallpaper that looks like bookshelves with real, antiquey books
* the librarian for the Bohemian Club who used to come into my store and buy books that he thought would 'look important enough'
* the fabulous library at Hearst Castle where the collection is hidden, literally, behind bars.

the whales said...

Brad Mehldau? I never mention those covers either!

FirstNations said...

a beloved family member deserves an obituary. i am so sorry about bertie bucket dog.
heres wishing him an illegal dumpsite on a riverbank during spring salmon season for all eternity.

FirstNations said...

....oh holy crap, tim. just visited librarything.

me: hello, my name is firstnations and i am an addict waiting to happen

group: hi, firstnations

Molly Bloom said...

That Library thing sounds *just* like my cup of tea don't you think? Hee hee.

Sometimes I think I come across as a stupid w***er* on my blog. I dunno...sometimes I wish I was someone else....

*that was 'worker' by the way.

I just love books and *certain* books more than others. I like high and low...but mostly in terms of books I like 'high'.

I like to play with 'high' and 'low' on my blog. I sometimes knock myself out by destroying my own credulity by posting strange things. That don't link at all.

I hope that I'm the same in 'reality'. Perhaps a w***er there too..

I'm really sorry about Bertie Bucket. I like to think of his little face happy somewhere. I'm sure he is. I like the way that little dogs dream and their little feet twitch. When they move on...that's what they do all day long...dream of good things.

Molly Bloom said...

And...that looks like a *mighty* fine book that Mazzer is reading there. Not that I'm biased or anything.

orange anubis said...

So sorry to hear about Bertie's last stand.

Don't resist any longer, Tim, you'd be amazed to find how many like-minded souls are there, however bizarre your current listening choices might be.

Tim F said...

Tom L: Possibly; but a list of the most popular titles is top-heavy with Rowling and Tolkien. Not Bohemian.

Whales: Aye, 'tis Brad.

FN, Molly: Yes, it is rather compulsive. I intended to work this w/end.

Orange: I'll keep as my post-deadline treat.

And thanks, all of you, for your warm thoughts. May Bert's beard forever be clotted with drool and gravy.

Molly Bloom said...

I've just read your 'Paper Tigers' post...don't know how I missed that. Enjoyed reading it very much, as I always do.

I hope that I put up 'warts 'n' all' posts. I did laugh when I read this though...because I wanted to do this song...and I was going to have a vid of my Joyce bookcase going in the kind of link with Billy's blog...but now, reading this post..I feel bad to have thought of doing it. But..I might do it in a postmodernly ironic way now. Just for jolly. I might do some *severe* close-ups of my favourite ones.

Wyndham said...

I adore LibraryThing!

Spinsterella said...

OMG - Library Thing is fantastic.

I might have to go off-topic and do a post about it myself.

Annie said...

*two minute's silence for Bertie Bucket*

Anonymous said...

RIP Bert. I liked his bee outfit best.

Spinsterella said...

Oooh, I've just found you on Library Thing. As well as someone called 'Wyndham' - could that be OUR Wyndham, do you think?

patroclus said...

Spinny, it should be obvious - after all we know a fair amount about the contents of our Wyndham's bookshelves...

Garth said...

Special Agent Tim - a curse on you and your dastardly machinations. I made the mistake of following your link to the Librarything - damn damn damn - whay didn't i listen to the voices for once - now I'm obliged (compelled) to keep adding my liberry aaaargh! can't stop myself!

Tim F said...

Dear LibraryThing... the invoice is in the mail.

sexy said...