So I decided to make a beginning with Reading Roulette. My scheme for this is, as I have mentioned, to select a novel at random from those in my wish list published between 1751 and 1930, inclusive. They are arranged chronologically and numbered, so I can enter those numerical cutoffs into a random number generator and have my book chosen for me.

(Obsessive? Who, me?)

And using this approach, my first random book has been selected – and in terms of an investigation of obscure, forgotten 18th and 19th century novels, I could hardly have hit upon a better example:

Agatha; or, A Narrative Of Recent Events (1796) – Elizabeth Jervis

The joke here is that had I done this only a few months ago, this novel would have been obscure and forgotten to the point of being unobtainable. By a wonderful coincidence, it has been made available by the efforts of John Goss, a M. Litt. student who stumbled across the identity of the author of this anonymously published novel while researching Robert Bage* for his thesis. Learning that less than twenty libraries in the world held a copy of Agatha, Goss initiated a subscription process to fund the editing and reissuing of the novel (I wish I’d known about that at the time) – a second edition 214 years after the first. A limited run of the novel was released earlier this year…and has, apparently, already been pirated by those print-on-demand outfits. Charming.

Anyway – the story being what it is, I’ve decided to order a copy of Agatha (an authorised one, I hasten to add). The first game of Reading Roulette will have to wait just a little longer.

(*Robert Bage! Now, there’s someone I haven’t read for a year or two. I remember enjoying his novels.)

10 Responses to “Perfect”

  1. For what it’s worth, I’ve frequently used the same method — generating random numbers to choose items from a numbered list — to decide which of several projects of my own to work on, or which particular aspect of a specific project. So… well, I guess that doesn’t necessarily prove you’re not being obsessive, but at least it establishes that if you are, you’re not the only one…

  2. Why am I not surprised to hear that from you? 🙂

    Well, it’s nice to have company.

  3. I’ve only just realised that this wasn’t a joke, because it matches the way I do things so well. Obviously you randomise the list if you don’t want to find yourself with all the stuff you didn’t feel like reading left over at the end. The only sensible alternative would be a strict ordering of some sort – chronological, or by author name, or some such.

  4. When you’re talking about a To Be Read list some 5,000 books long, there’s no such thing as a sensible alternative. In fact, the word “sensible” ceases to have any meaning.

  5. My girlfriend moved in with me earlier this year. I don’t have a To Be Read list so much as half a house full of interesting books. “Sensible” departed some time ago and occasionally sends postcards.

  6. It’s nice that you’re still in touch. I’m afraid we parted on acrimonious terms some years ago.

  7. I sometimes use an ersatz version of the random number method at unfamiliar restaurants when I can’t make up my mind between two or more apparently equally appealling items on the menu. In those cases, I pseudo-randomize by having the waitress pick the number without giving her any a priori clue as to why.

  8. When I need to use a random number to choose between things and am not at my computer, I sometimes pick the number by choosing a random word, assigning each letter the number of its position of the alphabet (A=1, B=2, etc.), and then taking the sum of the values of all the letters in the word, modulo whatever maximum number I want. For instance, say I wanted to choose a random number between 1 and 10, and pick the word FROG (though in practice I’d usually choose a longer word than that). F=6, R=18, O=15, G=7; added together, you get 46, which modulo 10 is 6. (Though really rather than add all the numbers together first and then take the modulus, it’s faster and easier to take the modulus of the intermediate sums as I go.) If I’d picked the word ESTATE, then 5+19+20+1+20+5 = 70, modulo 10 is 0, which counts as 10.

    This takes less time than it sounds like it would, at least with practice, but I still don’t know that I’d necessarily recommend it to anyone else.

  9. You’re all making me feel much better about myself. Thank you.


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