Barbara's Random Thoughts

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How do YOU arrange your books?

I'm going to be a book geek for a minute here. Humor me.

I really enjoyed this post from Sheila as well as the article she linked about arranging and displaying your books. I love this passage from the article:

An alphabetical arrangement, especially for poetry, seems unsatisfactory. I become rather sentimental as I arrange the books. I recall a good conversation I had with my father about Whitman and DH Lawrence, so I put these two next to each other. I remember a wonderful essay by John Bayley comparing The Eve of Saint Agnes with The Dead, so I put Joyce and Keats side by side. After Saul Bellow died, a friend told me she had put my novels next to Saul's in her bookcase, to help him rest in peace. It was the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. Another friend organises her bookshelves according to which authors she believes would have liked each other best. But that kind of ordering, for me, feels wildly presumptuous.
I love the idea of arranging books according to author compatibility! I once split my fiction collection into separate shelves for classic and contemporary because there were some hilarious author juxtapositionings that I just could not let stand.

Isn’t it in High Fidelity where the John Cusak character obsessively reorganizes his albums over and over according to different organizing schemes? Sometimes I feel like that about my books. Every once in a while, I just have to reorganize under new guidelines. Usually because my collection outgrows the shelves, but this always leads to new organizing principles.

My current organizational principle is alphabetical by author within category/genre. (Well, except for the hardbacks lined up on top of a couple of bookshelves, which are arranged more by size and weight in order to keep them from falling off the ends. And my corner bookshelf is purely arranged for looks.) I have one bookshelf devoted to children’s books, one for classic fiction, one for contemporary fiction, and one with a shelf each for Biblical/Christian living books, poetry/drama/short stories, and lit anthologies/other textbooks. There are also random other smaller categories with a shelf of their own within the above bookshelves: fantasy/sci-fi resides on the bottom shelf below contemporary fiction. Books I intend(ed) to read this year have the top shelf above contemporary fiction. Biography & random nonfiction has its own shelf below classic fiction. And I have various hardbacks scattered here & there around the house because they look nice.

Some of my divisions are completely arbitrarily designated. Classic fiction, for my shelving purposes, is defined by anything pre-1950. I decided on this date purely because dividing it this way allowed for the right number of books to fit on the shelves I wanted to put them on. And there are books that can be categorized in different ways, so those get shuffled back and forth between categories according to my space needs. The Chronicles of Narnia, the Green-sky trilogy, The Dark is Rising books--all can go under either children’s or fantasy, the two categories I find myself blurring most often.

I also confess to something else the article comments on: I totally check out other people’s bookshelves. I love seeing what books people own, because I feel like it tells a lot about a person--for good or ill. Sometimes I have to be careful to not be a literary snob and jump to conclusions about people’s lack of books or their ownership of certain books. (I remember wondering about Sonia when I saw she owned the Left Behind series. Heehee.) And I feel I've found a kindred spirit when I peruse someone's shelf and recognize books I’ve read, books I’ve been meaning to read, other books by authors I already love.

All this reminds me of the opening pages of Calvino's If on a winter’s night a traveler, where he talks about making your way through a bookshop...oh, shoot, I'll just quote it because I love it: have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:
the Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and the Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

And he goes on, but I'll stop here.
| posted by Barbara | 11:18 PM