Books Collected and Reviewed

I had a hard time deciding which book to review this month. I've read several, none of them outstandingly good, and none of them anything like the others. Looking at the three that made the final cut, I was amused at my own lack of literary coherence. And that reminded me of a great idea I once had: while shaking my head over all the books on my bookshelves (and in boxes, next to the bed, in the bathrooms, in my car, office, and pretty much everywhere there is a flat surface), I wondered what you could learn about a person's psychology by studying his book collecting habits. That might make the next great self-help pop-psy book: "Before You Marry Him, Look at His Library!" Combine that data with a glimpse of his CDs and DVDs, and inside his refrigerator, and you would probably get a good look into the deep inner workings of most people. And if you knew the chronology of acquisition, you'd be able to see if the individual was progressing, or heading for trouble!

It would be an interesting experiment to correlate what you read, what you keep, and how you keep it with personality traits - and to learn whether like libraries make good friends and partners, or if you should seek someone with complementary tastes in reading for long-term happiness. Does it mean you are a tidy thinker if you group your books by subject? How about a person who reads many books at one time (I'm guilty!)? What does it say about you if you only feel secure if there is a stack of unread books at least 5 or 6 deep somewhere in your home? Are you the type of person who has everything ever written by certain authors, or who has C.S. Lewis shelved next to Bret Easton Ellis?

I have a friend who collected first edition Nevil Shute, but had not read most of them. My sister, on the other hand, collects cookbooks, and reads them the way I read novels. My dad read - literally, sat down and started with A and continued through Z - the encyclopedia. (World Book.) He liked books that contained facts.

I know people who, like the serious-minded folks of the 19th century, believe that novels are a waste of time, and will only read biographies, histories, and occasionally some poetry or classics. And then there is my mom who is fond of series mysteries (like The Cat Who books, or Hamish MacBeth - she read them at the rate of one or two a day!). Some of us read the same books over and over, and never seem to tire of them.

Leaving the psychological implications of book collections to more scientific minds, here's a suggestion for getting your book collection in some sort of order: try a book cataloging program. A book cataloging program is a piece of software that allows you to enter pertinent information about the books in your collection (author, title, publisher, ISBN number, publish date, number of pages, editor, original title, translator, binding, edition, type of book (fiction, non-fiction, etc.), category and sub-category, purchase date and price, current value, condition, status (own, want, for sale), personal rating, owner, location, keywords, awards and nominations, comments, synopsis, and reviews) and the sort the collection according to any of these fields (or items of information). Now, you can sort your collection according to any number of rationales: type of book, personal rating, author, etc. Then using this sort as a guide, you can even shelve your books according to your sorted collection (some programs even assign a shelf location so that you can easily locate a given book if you've got a really large library).

One example of this type of software is BookCat ( You can store an unlimited number of books, and can create custom fields and reports, and can even store images of the book jacket and author. $40, with a download available.

I keep my DVD collection cataloged using a tool called DVD Profiler. One of the things I like about it in particular is that I can enter just the ISBN or UPC code, and the program will search its database for all the data relevant to that movie. It grabs the director, writer, actors, synopsis - even the case images. Now here's a book cataloging tool that does the same thing. Readerware ( there is no easier way to catalog and maintain your book collection. You can enter ISBN numbers, and like DVD Profiler, the program will find all the data connected to that number. Or easier still - simply scan the UPC or ISBN number in! The software supports a number of scanners, and even has a Cue Cat offer - free. Cue Cat, you may remember, is a cat-shaped scanner that its inventors thought would be the next big thing. They sent them to you just for the asking - the idea was that you would read a magazine, or get a product, and by scanning the barcode, be able to visit the product maker's website for more information. The idea never caught on, but maybe they're on to something here. You can even get an iPod or Palm edition of the software, so that your collection is always with you. Individual standard edition: $40.

Or try: Book Library - ( Type in the bar code, or use the convenient scanner available from Browse, sort and search your book library. Once you have added a number of books to the inventory, you can view it on the main screen of the program. It is possible to show a simple list of all books, but you can also organize your collection by author or by publisher, using the automatic folder feature. Or use the Images View to browse the covers of your books.

All lists can be sorted instantly, just by clicking the list column headers or by using the Sort Order screen. You can sort on any field, e.g. alphabetically on title or author, or ordered by publication date or purchase date.

Use the Quick Search feature to find all books that contain the word you type, or use the Advanced Filter command to search in specific fields, even multiple fields at once.

Lists of your books can be printed in any way you want. The Print feature lets you choose which books to print, which fields to show and in what order to list them. Printed lists are ideal for insurance purposes, or to take with you to the store. The Pro edition of Book Collector also includes a number of templates for other nicely formatted print-outs. The flexible XML/XSL-based template system lets you create your own layouts too (requires XSL programming skills).

If you own an iPod you really need to check out our Export to iPod Notes feature. It lets you export a list of your books to the iPod Notes system. Then take your iPod with you to the store and browse your collection right there on the spot, nicely grouped by author. Now you can always check which books you already own and thus avoid duplicate purchases.

Of course, once your library is neatly organized according to some electronic scheme, it won’t be as easy to read your deep inner workings by observing your library. We’ll have to move on to the canned food on your pantry shelves…


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