TITLE: The Annual Book March AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 08, 2009 6:31 AM DESC: ----- BODY: There is a scene in the television show "Two and a Half Men" in which neurotic Alan has a major meltdown in a bookstore. He decided to use some newly-found free time to better himself through reading the classics. He grabs some books from one shelf, say, Greek drama, and then from another, and another, picking up speed as he realizes that there aren't enough hours in a day or a lifetime to read all that is available. This pushes him over the edge, he makes a huge scene, and his brother is embarrassed in front of the whole store. I know that feeling this time of year. When I check books out from the university library, the due date is always next May, at the end of finals week for spring semester. Over the year, I run into books I'd like to read, new and old, in every conceivable place: e-mail, blogs, tweets, newspapers, ... With no particular constraint other than a finite amount of shelf space -- and floor space, and space at home -- I check it out. Now is the season of returning. I gather up all the books on my shelves, and on my floors, and in my home. For most of my years here, I have renewed them. Surely I will read them this summer, when time is less rare, or next year, on a trip or a break. At the beginning of the last couple of Mays, though, I have been trying to be more honest with myself and return books that have fallen so far down the list as to be unlikely reads. Some are far enough from my main areas of interest or work that they are crowded out by more relevant books. Others are in my area of interest but trumped by something newer or more on-point. Now, as I walk to the library, arms full, to return one or two or six, I often feel like poor, neurotic Alan. So many book, so little time! How can I do anything but fall farther and farther behind withe each passing day? Every book I return is like a little surrender. I am not quite as neurotic as Alan; at least I've never melted down in front of the book drop for all my students to see. I recognize reality. Still, it is hard to return almost any book unread. I've had better habits this year, enforcing on myself first a strict policy of returning two books for every new one I checked out, then backsliding to an even one-for-one swap. As a result, I have far fewer books to return or new. Still, this week I have surrendered Knuth's Selected Papers on Analysis of Algorithms, David Berlinski's The Advent of the Algorithm, and Jerry Weissman's Presenting to Win. Worry not; others will take their place, both old (Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson's Law) and new: The Passionate Programmer and Practical Programming. The last of these promises an intro to programming for the 21st century, and I am eager to see how well they carry off the idea. So, in the end, even if something changed radically to make the life of a professor less attractive, I agree with Learning Curves on the real reason I will never give up my job: the library. -----