Friday, July 11, 2008

How long will this take?

There are 1000 entries in the Dewey Decimal system, from 001 Knowledge to 999 Extraterrestrial worlds (side note: my local library has a ton of UFO books in 001. So their collection starts and ends with extraterrestrials). About 90 of these categories are unused entries.

Some categories are entirely foreign language. Being monolingual, I'll have to skip those.

There's also a number of sections that are largely reference works, such as 453 -- Italian dictionaries, or 031 -- Encyclopedias in American English. Unless I find something readable in that section, I'll have to skip those as well.

My guess is that will be about 800 books total. I'm a fairly fast reader, but that's still daunting. 2 books a week, 50 weeks per year (2 weeks off for vacation) comes out to 8 years of work.

As I said before, I'm not in a huge hurry. I read lots of non-fiction anyway; this is just channeling and guiding it. I'm not planning on dropping all my other activities so I can crank out this challenge in record time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

394: First book

I've finished my first book! Well, the first one that counts for the contest anyway.

It is a selection from 394.8, General Customs, titled The Duel: A History of Dueling, by Robert Baldick.

Overall, I found it a very interesting and well-organized look at the evolution of dueling over time and location. The first appearance of the duel was in Europe around 500 AD, and it was used to determine innocence or guilt in a criminal trial or a dispute. Over time, as criminal codes and judicial systems took over the role of criminal justice, dueling evolved into a method of resolving disputes, primarily among the gentry. Dueling was often officially illegal, but the laws were sporadically enforced and rarely deterred the combatants.

The book primarily focuses on France and England, but also includes a good section on dueling in other countries, including Germany, Russia, and America. The majority of the book is spent recounting famous, infamous and often ludicrous duels over the centuries. It bogs down a little at times as it recounts duel after duel, but remains a fun read, and well worth checking out.

The book is very attractive, with some nice woodcut illustrations and period paintings throughout, and even a few very early photographs. One minor criticism I had was that the illustrations are generally nowhere near the text in the book that refers to the picture.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


It's occurred to me that there are a number of dark corners of the library that I know nothing about. Take 866 -- Spanish letters. I have no idea what kinds of books I'm going to find there. Famous letters, maybe? Are they all in Spanish, or can I find an English translation?

Or 960 -- History of Africa. Africa is a big place, and that is a huge topic. Sure, I can just grab the first likely looking book off the shelf in that section, but I'd rather read a really good book on the topic. Besides, I know myself. As this contest goes on, I'm probably going to be grabbing books based on thickness.

To avoid having to read too many random grabs, I'm asking for suggestions. If you know of a good non-fiction book, particularly an esoteric and interesting book in an odd category, let me know! It'd be nice if you could include the call number and the other info, but don't worry about it if you don't know it.

Suggestions can be posted as comments to this post, or you can use the Suggestions form located in the links section.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Here are the ground rules:
  1. I will read one book from each Dewey Decimal classification, from 000 to 999, skipping any of the classes that are empty or unused. Also, if I run across a category that is impossible to read, such as "Dictionaries of Spanish Train Parts", I'm probably going to skip that too.
  2. Nothing I have read before counts towards finishing. That is, only books that I read after starting this blog will be counted.
  3. I'll try to write a short review of each book I finish, and publish it here.
  4. No, I'm not doing them in order. That would be sheer madness.
  5. If I read a book that's not from my library, then I'll determine the most accurate number for it by looking it up in several online library catalogs, and use that.
  6. I'm not in any hurry, and I have no expected end date. "Before I die" would be nice, as I really don't want to haunt my local library for centuries finishing up.
Questions, comments, want to sell me iPods? Post a comment.

What is this about?

It's pretty simple, really. I read. A lot. Since I'm not independently wealthy, and am, in fact, pretty cheap, I use the library all the time. I was staring at my stack of library books, thinking about what to read next, and I idly noticed the numbers at the base of the spine. Those are, for the uninitiated, the book's Dewey Decimal number, which tells the library where to shelve it. I had books from all over the library, and I thought, "I wonder how long it would take to read all of them?"

Since I'm not immortal, nor am I the guy from the Twilight Zone episode, I did have to scale it down somewhat. My goal is to read one book from every major number in the Dewey Decimal System. There are 1000 subcategories, although a number are not in use.

Why? Um. Yeah. I don't really have a good reason. Some people play golf. I read. Some slightly better reasons:
  1. somebody already beat me to reading the encyclopedia.
  2. I read a lot of non-fiction anyway, so why not try to keep a list, and try to make sure I cover everything?
  3. I'm kinda curious what esoteric knowledge lingers in the dark corners of the library.
  4. because I'd like to draw some attention to just how much amazing knowledge is piled up in even your tiny local library. They have everything mankind has produced in its 6,000 years. With all that knowledge, we've accomplished some pretty amazing things. You wouldn't be on the internet wasting your time reading this blog if it wasn't for some dude in Persia discovering algebra.
  5. because I'm a big know it all, and if I finish this I can move up to a huge one.