Anthony Powell (and a cat, I think)
Anthony Powell (and a cat, I think)

The first reference to a ‘commonplace book’ that I ever read was in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

Now I’ve come across this article about Powell’s writer’s notebook, recently published. Seems to darn serendipitous, doesn’t it? I should read that notebook, but as I write this, I have one more book left in his quotidian epic.

The author of the article, Terry Teachout, talks about re-reading Dance to the Music of Time every few years. While I’m not sure that I totally believe him (it’s quite an investment of time at the expense of other reading to wholly repeat more than once a decade), it does bring up a question I’ve been struggling with, namely, which books to keep? I have loved every page of Powell’s magnum opus, but it takes up not inconsiderable shelf space (or, if I’m being honest, ‘stacks on the floor’ space or ‘under the bed’ space or ‘somewhere I hope my wife won’t notice that I’m storing books’ space). Would I read it again or, if I won’t, is it the sort of book that one should keep in one’s permanent library, regardless of spatial opportunity cost? Perhaps yes. I think I’ve been guilted into keeping these books.

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