Location Times Three

Stan on books.

Over the years, I've maintained a list I call “Misshelved Books—the Librarian's Nightmare”. Thus, The Book of J is found among Iverson's Programming Languages and The Bourne Conspiracy in the UNIX Shell section. Search the tiny Linux Driver shelf, and you'll probably find P. D. James's Devices and Desires.

And where else but in the bulging OO (Object Orienteering) category would you expect Alan Bennett's A Private Function, Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under (surely a Dinkumware production) and Baudrillard's le systeçme des objets?

The latter, one of those impenetrable culture-theoretic works the French are so good at, probably merits its place alongside the growing number of mystical and pseudo-philosophical books on OO as the one true path to code nirvana. But to avoid memory leaks, remember that each constructor must be followed by a deconstructor.

A more general, cynical observation notes the large number of computer manuals filed under Non-Fiction.

Springer-Verlag's math lists have some strange titles just begging for misclassification: Equimultiplicity and Blowing Up, by Herrmann, Ikeda and Orbanz, surely belongs in the Balkan History section—and what about Motions of Coupled Bodies about a Fixed Point? Don't ask. Yet, there was that great, deliberately teasing book, The Joy of X.

Now dated is the joke that the Norton Classics series escaped misfiling under DOS 8080 Assembly Coding because the great man's mugshot did not grace the covers. Also fading from our collective memories are tales of Five Graves to Cairo and The Chicago Style Guide being catalogued under Microsoft Vaporware.

I've also noted some non-technical LibCat glitches: The Trials of Oscar Wilde under Humor, Anai<\#239>s Nin's diaries under Fiction (well, one never knows) and Black Beauty under African-American Studies.

The quirks of ASCII sorting by title show up in weird librarian contiguities. Thus, immediately after Software Engineering with Ada, one booklist offers Rich Zubaty's Surviving the Feminization of America: How to Keep Women from Ruining Your Life. If Lady Lovelace were alive today, she'd be turning in her grave!

We have happily left behind us those tab-card restrictions whereby titles were crudely curtailed to fit 80 (and even 22) columns. I still treasure invoices for “WHYIAM” (Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian) and (shades of Edward Lear) “MOZDONG” (Mozart's Don Giovanni). As Fritz Spiegl, my favorite musicologist, remarked, “From the sublime to the cor-blimey.”

On the bright side (there's always a bright side, except perhaps for Java Standards), misplaced books add to the joy of browsing. Recall The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes of which had the fairy-tale gift of accidental discovery? Horace Walpole post-coined the word “serendipity” in 1754, and with its own touch of magical self-reference, the word survives. You can find it in action each time you visit your public library's Recent Additions section, a random set of books awaiting misallocation.

Which is where I first spotted Eric S. Raymond's The Cathedral & The Bazaar (O'Reilly, Sebastopol, CA) in the hard-covered flesh, as it were. On my next visit, the book had moved to—who knows where? Medieval Economics? Church History? The clever numerical system (which I've dubbed Dewey-It-Yourself) presupposes a categorical knowledge of content in areas where the categories are forever shifting. Eric's book, following expansive explanatory titular trends, does have the helpful subtitle Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, so I hope it found its way to the “appropriate” shelf. Or rather, with duplicate copies, to several shelves, since The Cathedral & The Bazaar is aimed at a wide audience, including those who do not usually visit the Computer section.

In the meantime, I've acquired my own copy (via amazon.com [shameless plug]) and plan an in-depth review in next month's column. Rather late, I fear, since everyone from Linus Torvalds and Tom Peters to Guy Kawasaki, from Brian Behlendorf and Wayne Caccamo to Larry Augustin (and more) has stamped their approval. Yet, I will try to be objective—not easy, since Eric and I have collaborated on and off over the years on hackers' lexicography, and he has graciously reviewed one of my books.

Stan Kelly-Bootle (skb@crl.com) has been computing on and off since his EDSAC I (Cambridge University, UK) days in the 1950s. He has commented on the unchanging DP scene in many columns (“More than the effin' Parthenon”--Meilir Page-Jones) and books, including The Computer Contradictionary (MIT Press) and UNIX Complete (Sybex).


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