I look around my study and wish I had more space for all the variegated spines and odd sizes, all the colour and fun of a well-organised book collection. Space is one problem, the other is the internet. Without the internet, I’d have been more ruthless, spent more time in moving out some of the older books, the memories, the must-read-sometimes, and made certain I had in here the essential reference, all those reliable vade mecums which you know will give you the hard information – on a politician or poet, an idea, a simple fact – that these days you can get online.
What you gain with the internet is serendipity, there’s always something to surprise you, or make you think differently. What you lose is a sense of order, as you build a library as an extension of your ideas and interests, pieces in a jigsaw mirroring the jigsaw in your mind. Not one that’s ever remotely completed, sometimes hardly started, but there is a sense of order and indeed development there and for just that reason what you think or write makes better sense.
Ah, but the internet is free, you say. My rejoinder: you’ve a choice between what I could call bright happy chaos, that doesn’t cost you a sou, and something of more substance, with your library the mirror of your mind, your study the fulcrum. Make the internet your mirror and you may briefly be happy, but you’re lost.