Tuesday, July 08, 2008


“Why,” said my intelligent and well organised friend, “Don’t you have the books in your library catalogued and arranged in some sort of order? I have noticed,” he continued, “that you frequently waste much time searching for a book and then come away with some totally irrelevant volume, having forgotten what you were looking for in the first place.”
I could not deny the accusation.
Once upon a time, I had invested in a computer programme to catalogue my books and my wife had spent many hours entering the data. The file remains on the hard drive of her computer, unmolested. For the designers of the programme had omitted to take account of human frailty i.e. that a book taken from a shelf is rarely replaced in the same slot.
My friend is of the sort that buys his books from Waterstones or Barnes and Noble where the philosophy is a place for everything and everything in its place.
Not for him the excitement of prowling the dusty and uncategorised shelves in a decrepit bookshop on Charing Cross Road or rummaging through one of the ‘boites’ on the banks of the Seine, hoping to unearth a gem.
Yesterday I needed to look up some information on the exploits of the US 8th. Air Force and the disastrous raid upon Schweinfurt. Vaguely I recalled having a couple of books on the subject tucked away and, sure enough, I found them both within minutes.
Then my gaze wandered and lit upon my 1887 copy of A Textbook on the Steam Engine. For the next thirty minutes I was enthralled by the hiss of steam and the evocative smell of hot oil.
Reluctantly, I replaced the book, naturally in a different spot, and there, alongside, was a copy of the best book ever written on the Schweinfurt raid.
Elmer Bendigo had been a navigator on the operation and his book, ‘Fall of Fortresses,’ is the most evocative account of the disaster that befell the 8th.
Elmer had been a reporter in civilian life and brought a keen eye and a poet’s pen to the affair.
His is the only book I know that paints a true picture of the courage of the men of the 8th.
Now I know that you will say that, had my library been better arranged, I would have found the book earlier.
But then I would have learned nothing about Murdock’s slide valve, patented in 1799, nor of the surface condensers patented by Mr. W.S. Hall in 1831 for his locomotive ‘Wilberforce.’


Post a Comment

<< Home