Book-hoarding, 10th Century Style

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me in recent months, whether in real life or in some virtual space, has probably heard me bemoan the state of my office bookshelves.  As the photo above attests, they overflow. Loaded two deep and stacked rather than shelved, there is still not enough room. Worse, for the first time in my life I am having trouble finding things. Twice in the last year I bought a book I already owned. Once because I couldn’t find the copy I was sure I had and needed right then. Once because I didn’t even realize I owned a copy.* It makes me itchy.

Recently, a factoid has begun popping up in my universe that makes me feel even worse. According to Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading,

In the tenth century… the Grand Vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, in order not to part with his collection of 117,000 volumes when traveling, had them carried by a caravan of four hundred camels trained to walk in alphabetical order.

Manguel goes on to explain that the camel drivers effectively served as librarians, each responsible for retrieving volumes from his camel at the vizier’s command.

At first, I found the factoid charming:  a lovely illustration of the importance of books in the early Islamic world. Then I felt a little jealous at the idea of owning  1117,000 books.  Now I just feel inadequate at my inability to keep control over a couple of thousand books without the added complication of moving camels.

Something’s gonna change.


*Oh, the shame!



  1. HJ on April 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve bought the same book twice more than once. I look on it as proving that I really wanted it!!

    I’m exploring book cataloguing software. Many work using bar-code readers, which speeds up the process of inputing books as they then import all the information about the book from the Internet. And they include fields for the physical location of the books, and for recording loans. I’m hoping that once I’ve catalogued and arranged my books, maintaining it as I acquire new ones will require very little time.

    Remember, there is nothing wrong with owning lots of books. It’s merely (hah!) their organisation which requires effort.

  2. Pamela Toler on April 25, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Helena: I’ve been using Library Thing to catalog my books, but it still hasn’t solved my shelving problem.

  3. gerry toler on April 25, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    “Something’s gonna change.” yeah, sure it will. Take comfort, you inherited it.

    • Pamela Toler on April 26, 2013 at 12:56 am

      The books just keep following me home.

  4. Bart Ingraldi on April 26, 2013 at 12:51 am

    Our similarities are many, I find comfort in that.

    I recall Alistar Cook once contemplating how to arrange his vast library of books – almost all having to do with the US and its history – so he could quickly find what he was looking for. His solution was to arrange the books geographically. Book about New England states or history were placed in the upper right side of his book shelve, book about Calif etc. were on the left side.


    • Pamela Toler on April 26, 2013 at 12:55 am


      Geographically might drive me mad.

      Do you have to organize ephemera as well as books?


  5. Bart Ingraldi on April 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    The organization process for my ephemera is as effective as trying to organize alphabetically according to height. Somehow it doesn’t work, but I keep trying.

  6. Beverly Gray on May 1, 2013 at 4:26 am

    What fun, Pamela. My gratitude to you for your good suggestion regarding podcasting has led me to check out this site. I was once a classic English major (BA, MA, PhD), so of course I’m a bookaholic too. When I’m not going to the movies, that is. Do check out Beverly in Movieland when you can crawl out from under that stack of books!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.