Unassigned: Thoughts at 2.5%

by Gerard

So…I’ve read 1/40th of the Dewey sections (23 out of 904), and at least one book in every main class (not really a feat in and of itself, but still nothing to sneeze at). I think every 20 or 30 books is a good break point to reflect on the task at hand.

Throughout the last month, I’ve been compiling a master list of books I want to read for each section. I have 271 in my library now, which means I theoretically have to acquire 633 more books. That’s pretty easy for someone who gathers (hoards?) boxes of used paperbacks from the local library book sale, but when you’re looking for a book on “Mollusca and Molluscoidea” (593) or “General statistics of Asia” (315), it gets rather tedious.

After a month, I have come to a decision:

This journey will be limited to books that exist and are readable.

Existence (at least as far as books go) is easily definable. But what do I mean by “readable”?

Many of the sections in the 400s (Language) are reserved for dictionaries, etymology, and grammar books. While I’m more than willing to read about the history and construction of certain languages (Yiddish seems fun), I’m not going to read a dictionary in another language. Many people have accused me of reading the English dictionary for fun, but in reality, that is not true. I just read so much that I’m exposed to a panoply of new words on an almost constant basis.

So, pure dictionaries are out. Books about the history of certain dictionaries (which would still fit in the section) are more than welcome, but I have yet to see anything for German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, or Greek. If I do, I’ll fold them in. For right now, those six are out (down to 898 sections). In that same vein, most etymology books are written in the language that they are about, so those unfortunately have to go as well (down to 895 sections). Also, in the 400s, are works on standard usage and grammar. Most of these are language learning books (think “Rosetta Stone” software) and school textbooks. These are not workable for this challenge. I would have to spend a lot of time trying to learn the language, or just read the textbooks word for word without much benefit. That’s eight more (down to 887 sections). Lastly, there are no known works on “Organizations and management of organizations on language” (406), so we’re down to 886.

Next up are the “serial publication” sections. These exist in most of the main classes as “x05”. Section 105 is serial publications of philosophy, 405 is language serials, 605 is technological serials, and 905 is history serials. There are no known books on any of these subjects. 805 has one—it’s a book about the history of a particular literary magazine. So does 705 (art) and 505 (science). But those four are bereft of works, so I have to lose them (down to 882 sections).

Now we come to statistics books (the 310s). Without resorting to congressional economic reports or the CIA Fact Book pamphlets, I have found no candidates for 316, 318, or 319 (General statistics of Africa, South America, and other parts of the world respectively). There may be one out there, but the Library of Congress database was no help (down to 879 sections).

Next up are general works. These fall into the 000s. There are three areas that pose reasonability problems. As of right now, there are no known works on the composition, history, or social significance of Scandinavian language encyclopedias (038). I’m managed to unearth works on other European encyclopedias, and even one on Arabic encyclopedias, but Scandinavia is the lone holdout (down to 878). The same holds true for works on general organizations in Germany (064), France (065), and Spain (066). So, these are gone (875 left). Lastly, works on general serial publication in Italian (055) and Scandinavian (056) are like unicorns—nonexistent.

All these dismissals leave 873 sections still to read in. Finishing this task would still mean I would be versed in 96.6% of the Dewey Decimal System. Find me someone else who’s exceeded that mark and I’ll gladly try harder (and ask them what they found to read).

Now, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of finding one eventually. This just means that, for right now, I cannot be expected to fill those particular sections. I’ll be notating those on the Tally page with a “Nothing Available” tag. If anyone out there can find a book on those subjects, I’ll add them to the list and merrily continue on my quest. But, until then, the goal line has been moved that much closer (which means I now 2.63% done with the quest instead of 2.54%, and will finish in January 2018)

All this still means I have to buy 602 more books. And I’m very much OK with that (the wife might not be, though). Luckily, I’ve been able to price it out on Amazon—it should come to just shy of $6,000, or $10 per book. Not bad for a seven-year quest.