I like books. I admit that I mainly like them for their contents, and there are some books on Celtic mythology, and Celtic studies more generally, that I wouldn’t like to be without
Living a long way from a city, especially one with a university which has a Celtic or Medieval studies programme, means libraries aren’t much help. I live in the rural US, where the libraries are populist and even inter-library loans programmes can be a bit sketchy.
When my cash-flow changed a few years ago, I was able to scratch the itch of buying some books. I’m not by nature a collector of anything, and I’ve maybe spent $500 (?) over the past few years on books. Considering that several of those books cost closer to $100 than $50, that’s not very many books, but I try to choose carefully.
I am not longing to increase my library by very much, and I'm already looking at which books I might let go of. And being in my sixties, I am already thinking about where all these books should go when I die, because I hate waste, and a book on a specialist topic is wasted if it sits on the shelf of someone who doesn’t use it.
The supply of many Celtic studies books is limited. The print runs are often small, they will probably never be reprinted, and most will not make it onto Kindle. As far as I’m concerned, there is a special place in hell reserved for people who collect hard-to-get Celtic studies books they don’t use, driving the price up for those who really need them.
The internet is also a great place to do research on Celtic mythology. People are constantly asking me about “books” and resisting my suggestions to look at the many excellent online resources. I don’t know whether that’s because they believe that books are more trustworthy than websites (they’re not) or whether it has more to do with the urge people have to collect stuff which relates to their interests . . . but not necessarily use it.
Of course the internet is a glorious place to waste time. The other day I was wasting time on YouTube, and I was drawn to one of those “decluttering” videos which I thought really hit the nail on the head with so many things. The presenter was talking about all the things she had collected which were actually about her fantasy self. “When I retire I’ll take up pottery, so I’ve bought a wheel and a bunch of books.” “I want to quilt. Now I have a closet full of fabric and quilting supplies, but I still haven’t finished a quilt after five years.” I’m sorry, I think this is a little problematic. Environmentally, if for no other reason. And it’s still a problem if it’s books.
I’m not a minimalist. I kind of like my clutter, within reason, but I’ve moved house far too many times to feel okay about a huge weight of possessions. To me, that spells danger. It makes me less nimble.
Anyway, back to the books and the internet. I might not collect books, but I collect bookmarks on my browser. I thought I might screen-shot that for you, but my collection is too vast! They are sorted into categories and folders and occasionally subfolders. Most myths translated from Irish or Welsh exist online. Often several times over. And, increasingly, the original books or journals are now online, thanks to archive.org, since many of them are old enough to be in the public domain. That means you get the translators' notes and other goodies. This also goes for many books on folklore, and some of the best dictionaries of both modern and Medieval Celtic languages.
Sometimes old translations have their issues. Scholarship in early Celtic languages has improved – but in many cases it has only improved marginally, and will always be a matter of opinion. The attitude of early folklorists can leave a lot to be desired – but they had the advantage of living at a time when there was a lot more to collect! Some younger readers complain that the English in these books in annoyingly old fashioned. I understand how for some people that could be a barrier, but if you are happy reading the Brontes and Jane Austin, then you’ll be fine.
Anyone who has taken one of my online classes will tell you that the course notes are littered with internet links. “You can read this story here, and a different version there. You might be interested in this paper which is available on JSTOR/Academia/Archive for further reading. Here’s a link to the dictionary entry for the different possible meanings of this obscure word.” Some of my students get this. Maybe they are used to doing research in this way already, or they don’t have much money. I see others constantly talking about their book purchases, but I don't always see evidence that they have read the books. I’m not really interested in enabling that.
I’ll try to put together a follow-up post, soon, with some kind of organised list of online resources I use, and what they have to offer. Please watch this space, and please tell me that I won’t be wasting my time!
(This post was released 10 days early for upper-tier patrons.)