Well, another one of the moving rituals is completed; all the books are unpacked. Every time I do this, I have the righteous intention of organizing the books into some kind of sensible order. And every time, I get about 80% of the way there and then give up because there aren’t enough large format hardbacks to justify raising that shelf one notch higher, but there are still too many books about Morrissey.
It all goes to show that I'd have made a lousy librarian. Not for the conventional reason, that it's a dull job: I've never quite understood that idea. Casanova was a librarian. And then there are those twin titans of creative curmudgeonhood, Philip Larkin and Bob Swipe. And our school librarian, Mr Middleton, who sounded like Geoffrey Boycott but looked like Martin Sheen, which is a pretty memorable combination. No, the reason I'd fail to match these splendid wielders of the date stamp is that I lack the ruthless devotion to method and systems without which the whole thing would fall apart. Librarians; brain surgeons; conceptual physicists; contract killers.
So, each time I fill the shelves, I come up with a new method, one that pays lip service to Dewey, but also tips its hat to that greater god, "seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time". In this, of course, I'm only following in the footsteps of Rob Fleming, the hero of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, who rearranged his record collection at times of emotional turmoil. Although I could never hope to adopt his signature method - autobiographical - because I can never remember which of the stories I've told about my reading habits are true. I know for a fact that I read Less Than Zero at the age of 18 on a night train from Montreal to New York; but did I really read Zuleika Dobson at Magdalen College, Oxford, the night before my admission interview? I told someone that I'd realised the reality could never match Beerbohm's fantastic vision, and was thus reconciled to my ultimate failure. But that sounds like bollocks, and it probably is.
So, this time round, I set aside two shelves for the dozens of books relating to Asia that we've acquired over the last - gulp - four years. Thailand on one shelf; general and others on the one below. All fine so far. Then a shelf for cookbooks. And that's where the problem starts. What about Asian cookbooks? Asian fiction? Asian books about Morrissey? Maybe this is the essential difference between Mr Middleton and me: his mind was constructed as a rigid, hierarchical pattern of sets and subsets; mine is like a bloody great Venn diagram, decorated with Post-It notes and flecks of Tipp-Ex and occasional toast crumbs. And pencilled marginalia about Vietnamese cookbooks. Do you have a system? Or a conscious lack of one? Do let me know. I'm sure everyone will find it fascinating.
Still on a vaguely bibliophile note, a fellow writer has flagged up a new way for me to torment myself about the performance of Welcome to the Machine. Rather than keeping tabs on the yo-yoing Amazon ranking, I can see at a glance the relative stock levels in every branch of Waterstone's. Which just makes me wonder why the buyer in Newcastle upon Tyne has more faith in my ability to shift units than the one in Burton on Trent. Unless of course they each bought the same number, but a few people in Burton-on-Trent actually decided to buy one. See what I mean? Torment...
Further afield, I don't have sales figures for LA, just anecdotal evidence...
PS: More about Waterstone's here, not that I'm obsessed or anything.