GUEST BLOG: The Combining of Libraries by Robert Hoge

by |November 4, 2013

Click here to order Ugly from BooktopiaPeople praise Shakespeare – for his heartbreaking tragedies, for his poetry, for his ability to translate the human condition into the written word.

None of these is his greatest achievement.

No; the smartest thing Shakespeare ever did was kill off Romeo and Juliet before they had to consider combining their book collections. Because, for literary-inclined star-cross’d lovers, such is a fate worse than death.

My library combining challenge with my – now – wife, Kate, came 10 years ago. We moved in together: one couch, one kettle, one dining table, four bookcases and seven bookcases worth of books.

We both read science fiction and fantasy and figured combining libraries shouldn’t be hard. When we got round to it. Until then, our collections maintained a polite and silent distance.

Two years later, the dusty détente remained. The only collection of books we’d managed to combine were ones we’d piled atop each other on the floor.

Eventually it was time. I looked at our collections and estimated how much space we’d need for each category. Then I started looking for duplicate and triplicate copies of books.

That worked fine until we got to the Bs. We had multiple copies of Paul Brandon’s Swim the Moon. We both had signed copies. And we figured we’d need an unsigned copy to lend to others. So up on the shelf went three copies.

At C, Kate suggested it was time to give up my obsession with Arthur C. Clarke. I scowled, saying they were formative reading in my young years. At D we realized we both had signed copies of Dreaming Down Under edited by Jack Dann and Janeen Webb. And we had different UK and US editions that we wanted to keep. So up went four copies of a 550-page book. By the time we got to Harlan Ellison, we’d filled an entire bookcase.

“Combining libraries isn’t the problem,” I said. “We need to thin out our collection.”

Kate threw down the first challenge and asked if we really needed to keep my yellowing Asimov short story collections.

“What! They were a gift from my Mum at the end of grade 10,” I said, slightly offended.

I asked if we needed her Anne McCaffrey paperbacks held together with sticky tape.

“Of course! They’re what got me into writing in the first place,” Kate said.

Hours later, by the time we got to Connie Willis and Roger Zelazny, we had tripled the number of arguments we’d had the whole time we’d been together.

Sheer exhaustion got to us in the end.

“There’s one easy solution,” I said. “We could buy more bookcases.”

“Yes,” Kate said. “But what style of bookcase? And which room would we put them in?”

That was a whole other discussion.

Thank you, Robert, for sharing this with readers of the Booktopia Blog.

Click here to order Ugly from BooktopiaUgly: by Robert Hoge

Robert Hoge was born with a massive tumour, severely distorted facial features, legs that were twisted and useless, and a mother who didn’t think she could take her son home. His life could have been achingly sad, but with his family he filled it with joy, optimism and the naughtiness of boyhood.

‘One Saturday morning in early August 1972, my parents sat my two brothers and two sisters down and explained the situation. Then came the big question. One by one my parents asked my siblings whether they thought they should bring me home. In turn each of them said, “Yes, bring our brother home”.’

Home for the Hoges was the bayside suburb of Wynnum, Brisbane. Mary knew that her son’s life would be filled with challenges but together with his dad Vincent they did everything they could to give Robert a typical Australian childhood, full of pranks, school camps and bad haircuts. But behind the smiles Robert, and his family, endured gruelling, dangerous operations that made medical history to give him a better life.

Ugly is Robert’s account of those years, from his birth to the arrival of his daughter in 2002. It is the story of an extraordinary person achieving great things by living an ordinary life.

Grab a copy of Robert’s memoir Ugly here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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