Two of the many dangers waiting for me on the road to the local supermarket are second-hand shops with tables full of old books outside them. I know that, if I am not strong, I will not only forget what I set out to buy, but will wind up wasting time, space, and money. There was a big new consignment in at one of them today. It looked like the result of a single clearout as the books were all in similar boxes and the contents of each one fell into three categories: books on British politics, science fiction novels, and doom-laden eco-tracts—back in the 70s we were all going to have frozen to death by the year 2000. Of course I came home with one six-for-a-pound bag. Chris Brooke will be round here soon to tell me that Marshall and Moodie’s Some Problems With The Constitution is rubbish. After a few minutes rummaging I began to build up a picture in my mind of the original owner of this collection. He is/was almost certainly male and probably a bit annoying, but he also seemed to me to be the sort of person you could have a reasonably interesting conversation with down the pub.

I don’t do this kind of thing usually because it is, to be blunt, wanky. Reading and learning should be worn as lightly as possible (especially in argument when agility is all), and people who drop the names of Great (Wo)Men they’ve read are worse than people who drop the names of celebrities they’ve met. I’m about to do both. The thing is, the books on my bookshelves are currently arranged by size, just as I unpacked them when I arrived here. (And, as my parents would tell you with a groan, most of them aren’t here.) I looked at the spines on one of the narrower shelves—in fact the leftmost, toppermost shelf; how random is that?—and was struck by how obviously “me” they are. They are a small slice through “my library” selected on the almost arbitrary criterion of size. Here they are, in the order they appear and completely unedited for public consumption:

The Iron Man, Ted Hughes [I loved this when I was a kid, but this is the slim, 80s Faber paperback with superb etchings by Andrew Davidson.]
A Sort of Life, Graham Greene [my dad’s favourite author—for obvious reasons]
A Secret History, Donna Tartt [I bought a copy of this for my dad too because he would appreciate the forest of classical allusions better than I did, but he’ll never finish it because it’s such a long haul and he’s glad to see the back of teaching English; that’s a shame because it’s a superb novel and it’s probably even better if you have some Greek and Latin.]
Lord of the Flies, William Golding [When I rule the world, my jackbooted goons will patrol the classrooms, forcing all children to read Golding, Levi, Conquest, and Orwell. Only in this way will my plans for a new utopia be realised.]
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke [This, War Of The Worlds, and The Time Machine: the most ripped-off science fiction stories of all time?]
A Concise Advanced Guide To MS-DOS, N Kantaris [Whaddidya expect? This blog isn’t called “PooterCoolPerson”.]
The Two Cultures, C. P. Snow [This is the CUP Canto edition with particularly unforgiving notes by Stefan Collini and a collection of contemporary responses to the famous lecture.]
Good Benito, Alan Lightman [a novel for physicists]
Trespass, D J Taylor [a novel that demonstrates how to write well about provincial life]
The Art of Genes, Enrico Coen
London: A Guide To Recent Architecture, Samantha Hardingman
Lying Liars And The Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken [given to me by the Anonymous Economist]
Getting To Yes: Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton [bought on the recommendation of a veh veh posh and eccentric woman I met in the King’s Road McDonald’s—she was right]
A Shite History Of Nearly Everything, A Parody [bought for me by a rellie]
George W Bushisms [vols 1, 2, and 3], Jacob Weisberg [another Christmas present]
The Rise And Fall Of Popular Music, Donald Clarke [even more vicious than I am about the state of popular songwriting since the arrival of rock—I blame the synthetic authenticity of “folk” music for starting the decline myself]
The Story Of Jazz: Bop and Beyond, Franck Bergerot and Arnaud Merlin
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
An Awesome Silence, Eldon S. Davis
The Metrosexual Guide To Style, Michael Flocker [thanks, cs]
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray [a friend lent it to me, honest; the book says the same thing over and over again, but I have to admit that that thing it says is a terrible truth]
The Joys Of Yiddish, Leo Rosten [so I can understand the transmissions from headquarters]
A Historical Introduction To The Philosophy of Science, John Losee
Vote For… Who?, Jonathan Maitland [not read it yet, but I will—thanks, Dad]
The All-American Skin Game Or, The Decoy Of Race, Stanley Crouch [thanks, Judith]
Living German, R. W. Buckley [much better than the textbook I’d been given at school, of course]
On Tenderness Express, Maxim Jakubowski [picked it out of a remainder bin, but I should have left it there]
Design For A Life: How Behaviour Develops, Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin [bought it after I had dinner with Patrick Bateson once]
The Man Of Reason, Genevieve Lloyd [bought for me by a woman doing a Master’s in anthropology—going out with me was part of her fieldwork]
The Fabric Of Reality, David Deutsch [Deutsch might be the greatest thinker I’ve ever had the privilege to be lectured by]
The Spark Of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup, Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada