books and appleIt was one of those “one thing leads to another” email conversations which lead to the discovery of a new, but yet to be tried, author (one Elizabeth Goudge  – me neither) and a superficially profound piece of advice, courtesy of the same author on the perennial problem of too many books – “one in means one out!”.

I’ve been thinking this over and come to the conclusion that this superficially simple nugget of wisdom isn’t as straight forward as it might first appear.

Problem 1:  In its purest form, it’s irrational. Given that everyone starts with zero books, “one in, one out” is impossible. You could, I suppose, exclude the zero books scenario as a special case, which would mean that you would only ever own one book. Let’s call this The First Law of Book Management – okay, maybe not a law at this stage, maybe a hypothesis

If BooksCurrent <1 and BooksIn = 1 then BooksOut=0  else BooksOut=1 

But its not as simple as that …

Problem 2:  What if …

… It’s a three-volume novel – do we need to substitute the concept of a work for a physical book?

… You’re a guest on Desert Island Discs – do you count the Bible and Shakespeare or do they not count on the grounds that they come with the territory?

If we allow these exceptions then we get

If WorksCurrent <1 or if (DesertIslandDiscs = True and not (WorksCurrentTitle = “Bible” or “Shakespeare”)) then WorksOut=0  else WorksOut=1 

Problem 3 (4,5,6,7,8 …)

Should the maximum number of books be determined by the amount of space available for storage? Should this be bookshelf space only or should it include other storage types – attics, bedside tables, floors? If bookshelves, is doubling allowed? Do we have to deduct space for non-book articles that may be stored on bookshelves such as mugs used as pencil holders, paperweights, stone eggs, elephants and, of course, camels? And DVDs – what about DVDs?

If VolWorksCurrent < (Sum((MaxShelfSpace-Sum(VolMugs,VolPaperweights, VolElephants, VolCamels), MaxBedsideTableSpace, (MaxFloorSpace-SpaceNeededForOtherStuff)) then WorksOut=0  else WorksOut=1 

Problem whatever

Do library books count?

Conclusion

Time for some alternative wisdom –

“To every complex and difficult problem there is a simple and elegant solution – and it’s wrong.”