Almanac Life: Lost Books

By Roy Hay


You all know the story of the book you can’t find. You had it yesterday, last week, a month, a year ago and it was right there. But today, nowhere, when you need it. Tomorrow, back in its place and the first thing you see. Too late. The moment, the need, the reason—all have passed, never to be recalled.


Meantime, you wrack your brains to think where it might be. It was alongside something I read last week, I think. Perhaps not last week, but very recently. Did I throw it out when I last checked and cleared the bookcase? Did my significant other do so during her/his last spring cleaning?


Did I lend it to somebody? Was that the one I leant to my friend? He/she never returns books. Should I phone and ask? What if it wasn’t? He/she will be most embarrassed. Better not.


Why don’t I organise my books into some sort of order? I’m not a librarian. I haven’t a clue about the Dewey or the Oxford system. Anyway, what the hell does 094.331/Mao tell you? Why shouldn’t gardening books and mystical religion go alongside each other if they are the same height on the shelves? I know I’ve got about 17 Ian Rankin crime novels but they are scattered across the universe. One day I must put them together then they will be easier to trace. I’m sure the last time I tried that, it was when I found I had three copies of Black and Blue. Did they change the title, the cover or just the size?

But when you start doing that you never get anywhere. Either you start reading one of them and abandon the notion altogether when it is time for lunch, or the varying sizes of the books by the same author don’t fit on the same shelf. The bookcase looks ridiculous with big spaces here and there because the Peter Temples don’t fill a shelf, whereas the Reginald Hills are overflowing everywhere.


What do I do with oversize atlases, dictionaries, gardening, art, cookery books? Have a shelf for big books? How’s that for a working principle? Where’s the family bible? Propping up the bookcase in the spare room. Can’t do without that unless I find time to make or buy a new bookcase. Ridiculous at my age. I don’t need more books. Will never fill it.


Get rid of some of the junk. Settle down to pick out junk. That’s not junk. I enjoyed that the last time I read it. Bought it in 1975. Some of the pages are still uncut. Did I read it? Probably borrowed it from the library, or a friend. Is it mine? There’s a name on the fly leaf. Not mine. Probably got it second hand. Or did I? Should I have returned that? Should I do so now? That will be one fewer to shelve. Will James give me a baleful look if I try to return his book 45 years later? He’s probably got quite enough books and will never miss this one, if he hasn’t asked for it back. Better just keep it, in case he asks.


Let’s put aside a pile for the second-hand bookshop. Will they be happy to have the ones I don’t want? They weren’t the last time I asked. ‘These books will never sell. Too academic, too common, too foxed, too worn, the spine’s broken on that one, we already have five copies of that one on the shelves’. What about the op shop? Just give them away. But they are closed down by the virus. Maybe I’ll take them to Clunes for the next Book Town. But then how do I get rid of them there? What do I do with them meantime?


Ah, well it’s time for lunch. I’ll get back to it this afternoon. But I need to do the weekly shopping. Perhaps tomorrow. But then, I remember that Spanish fellow who turned up in the Highlands of Scotland and asked one of the locals, ‘Have you any word in your language for mañana, tomorrow or the next day or sometime soon? ‘Nah’, says the local after mature consideration, ‘We have no word for anything as urgent as that’.





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  1. John Butler says

    I like this, Roy.

    So many consequential questions for the book lover. And they are all essential! (well, nearly all).

    That Marie Kondo was useful for socks and jocks, but she has no idea about books.


  2. Thanks, John. Can you pop the link back into the story, please?


  3. John Butler says

    Link now added.

    That’s one idea that hadn’t occurred… :)

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Enjoyable, Roy, containing numerous questions/thoughts I’m sure many of us book lovers have had. And your piece has reminded me of a book I took out of a local library in about 1983 and never returned – the library concerned had a card catalogue system back then, of course. Also, I’ve moved house a number of times over the years. At any rate, they’ve never caught up with me!

  5. You’d better keep your head down, Kev, in case the current librarian is an Almanac reader!

  6. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks Roy, a perennial problem for many book lovers!.Before I recently downsized into town I contemplated culling some of the many books I have – I couldn’t! I might want to read them again. Tattered, torn, well thumbed, and falling to bits I’ve held onto to them all. Some have managed to fill a couple of rooms in our new abode but the rest remain boxed or on temporary shelves in the garage. Thank goodness for a double garage! Although I didn’t really have a filling system of sorts for my books at my previous home, I could always – well, nearly always – put my hand on the book I was looking for. An instinct as to where a particular book may be. That instinct is currently lacking, but give me time!

  7. Yeah, I know that sixth sense that sometimes comes to your rescue, Col, but I am finding it is not working so well these days. Getting all my soccer stuff to the MCC Library was a big bonus from my wife’s point of view. She was sure I would fall off the twig and she would have to sort it out. But there is still a helluva lot around our old folks home which we built in Bannockburn. So the issues outlined above persist.

  8. Rod Oaten says

    Great Story Roy, In a previous life I was a school librarian, so I “sort of” had most of my collection into sections of interest. I’m not saying I could put my hand on a book or mag. I wanted straight away, but it worked pretty well.
    Then my wife decided a few years the shelves looked untidy, which they did, so she sorted them according to size.
    Ok, the shelves look pretty good now, but from then on finding a book has never been easy.

  9. Thanks, Rod. My wife was and is an editor, and she prizes consistency. So the novels and other books in the house are grouped as far as possible by author. Then she has a section with the books that she has been involved with professionally over the years.

    My study is a very different story.

  10. Lovely piece, Roy; stopped me from doing some very important stuff I had on. That’s okay – I can do it later – or tomorrow – or sometime or other!

  11. You’ve got me thinking, Merv. Is there a patron saint of procrastinators?

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