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.