The Books: My Nearly-Complete Collection

I am not very good at collecting things. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe I know that my inner (and often outer) obsessive perfectionist will come out if I fully commit to building a collection, or maybe my interests are too wide-ranging and my attention span too finite for me to fully devote myself to any one pursuit. Whatever the case, I don’t really have much that could be considered a collection.

That said, I have a collection of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books.

Nero Wolfe is a fictional detective. Rex Stout wrote 47 books total chronicling his exploits. I own 46 of them.

With one exception, the books are organized chronologically by publication date, which are also essentially chronological in universe.

The book Triple Zeck is a collection of three books dealing with Wolfe’s feud with Arnold Zeck, his Moriarty. Two of those books I also own separately. The third I do not own separately, so I have to keep the volume around for completeness. One day I will acquire the third and then I can dispense with the collection, which is necessary because the books do not fall consecutively so a correct chronological ordering is not possible using that volume, which is why it is exiled to a shelf below the others.

Does this sound obsessive? I don’t know, this is just how my brain works.

I created a spreadsheet to track the books which I have. The third column also tracks whether I still need the book in paperback form (as you can see from the photo, some of the books I have in hardback and it is displeasing to see them interrupting the uniformity of the shelf). The Unowned column is automatically updated by a macro I wrote (yes, I learned how to write Google Sheets macros specifically so this spreadsheet would auto-update), and as you can see I am currently only missing one book to complete my set.

I could purchase the book online for not too much money today, but part of the fun is the thrill of the hunt. Every time I go into a used bookstore, it might have one of the volumes I need. One day, I will walk into a used bookstore and find Before Midnight, which will be utterly delightful. Having it arrive on my doorstep in Amazon.com packaging would be an anticlimax by comparison.

Many of these books I actually received from my grandmother, my mom’s mother. Her book collection put mine to shame. Even if all my e-books were regular, physical books, her library dwarfed mine. However, all good things must come to an end, and as my grandparents were selling their home and moving to a place that would more adequately meet their needs, they had to get rid of oh so many books. I made it known that I would happily take any Nero Wolfe book that was up for grabs, and the family kindly gave me pretty much every single one she had.

(Times like those are difficult for all, and sadly all grandparents on both sides have passed away. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. But I have fond memories of that time; if there was any squabbling I wasn’t aware of it. When it comes time for my books to be divided up, I will be well pleased if at least some of them go to someone who’s as eager to receive them as I was to receive her Rex Stout books.)

I am not the sort of person who tries to solve the mystery as I read the book. I honestly find doing so to be an exercise in frustration — often, the key data point or important revelation is inaccessible to the reader. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are frequently completely unsolvable by the reader, relying on Holmes’ encyclopedic knowledge of cigar ash or bicycle tire treads or whatever, and even in-universe Holmes frequently chides Watson for not including the necessary information for the reader to solve the mystery on their own. Stout’s mysteries are slightly more accessible, but often Nero Wolfe will present as fact what is really more of a guess (and he will frequently acknowledge as much afterward, once he’s wrung a confession from the gullible perpetrator). I don’t care; I think they are great stories.

Stout is in many ways the P.G. Wodehouse of mystery writing, telling breezy and quick-paced tales of adventure and romance, all narrated by an inveterate bachelor who would be adrift without the giant brain he is allied with. I am an unrepentant Wodehouse fan, and I also do quite love a good Nero Wolfe mystery.

Fortunately, they are all good.

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