July 2, 2009
The Scope of a Collection
I really do plan to be brief, this time. But some administration first: I won’t be holding a book collecting contest this month because I am out of town, nowhere near books in any kind of quantity. Our cottage is newly built and not yet filled to the rafters with summer books, though a new load comes in every week as my family wakes up to this opportunity to clear out some shelf space. In the meantime I am alone with the trees, rocks, lake, rain… and internet.
Enough about that. I wanted to speak for two seconds about the concept of defining the scope of one’s book collection. When I tell people I collect books they often reply with “me too, I have like two whole bookcases of books”. While this is “collecting” in a sense, it isn’t really what is meant when someone who considers themselves a serious collector says they collect. That, really, is hoarding, or owning. Collecting in a more formal sense means to define the bounds of a particular collection, deciding what is relevant and desirable and what isn’t, and seeking out those particular books. A collection can theoretically be completed some day, whereas “owning books” is something which goes on forever.
So defining the scope of your collection really is the single most important thing you will do. Simply put, this means deciding what is in and what is out. Cost, interest, practicality and availability might all factor. For some excellent advice on where to start and how to proceed with defining a collection, check out The Private Library. In the meantime, here is my current predicament.
I collect Alexandre Dumas (pere). The boundaries of my collection are intentionally foggy (I do like to surprises) but roughly speaking, I want to collect all of his oeuvre, one copy in French and one copy in English. I also love adaptations – his works repackaged and possibly reinterpreted for a specific audience. The Count of Monte Cristo as a graphic novel, say, or The Three Musketeers as a play. I do not collect “sequels” by third parties, or totally derived works (although I once found a website dedicated to someone’s collection who only collected sequels, unauthorized versions, derivations, etc. I wish I could find it now!).
Sometimes I make exceptions to the rule because it tickles my fancy to do so. I will buy any “and zombies” mashups that anyone chooses to do of Mr. Dumas’s works (a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I refuse utterly to touch any of Disney’s many Musketeers interpretations – I am still offended that they call their little footsoldiers “Mouseketeers”. But what about this one?
Sometimes something is just ridiculous enough that I don’t know if I can resist. I mean, this baby even comes with a DVD. And the idea of Barbie as a character in a Dumas novel is so totally preposterous that I feel I might need it just to… I don’t know, counterbalance or juxtapose something. Somehow I doubt Barbie and her friends are carousing and scrapping, disciplining their servants and getting imprisoned. I wonder how Barbie feels about falling in love with fair Constance, then forgetting about her at the first flash of Milady’s milk-white bosom and ultimately sleeping with Kitty, the maid, in order to ferret out Milady’s nefarious plot. I wonder!
Anyway, the moral of the story is, be disciplined but be creative. Sometimes the best collected materials are those ones you never thought you’d acquire. A hundred years from now when your collection is enshrined in a university somewhere (*coff*) you never know what some enterprising young grad student will do with the material. Personally, I see a thesis paper in here somewhere. Think outside the box!