Monday, November 28, 2005

Stacking Your Shelves

Highly recommended - a browse through the comments on this Guardian "culture vulture" blog, which brightened up my Friday afternoon, about the different approaches to ordering your books - do you do it by chronology, subject, size, colour, or some other system?

One the one had were the Nick Hornby types who had some intricate and carefully maintained ordering system. On the other were those who thought that "books are for reading" and that arranging them in a special way is either anal or pretentious. The split of comments was about two-thirds / one third between the two groups.

The best comments made me cry with laughter. An example of the compulsive orderer:

"Initially, by broad subject area: academic books (which tend to be in my office); literature; politics; current events; music; film; biography; and so on.

Now, within those categories they are alphabetically by author and chronologically within that for academic books and literature; and by subject matter for the other categories, though alphabetically by author within that category, and if there is more than one book by an author on a given topic, chronologically of course.

I should also mention that I simply cannot bear for a book to have broken spine -- it makes reading them a careful matter.

Writing this down I realise that I may need help."

And here is the best response from the anti types:

"I organise my books according to how easily I can use them to bludgeon and brain damage people who honestly give a shit about how their books are organised. Too large and the books are too heavy to lift, and the pretentious twats get away. Too light, and insufficient damage is inflicted, and the vacuous morons barely feel it through their dense three-inch thick philistine skulls. The optimum size is a 300 page hardback and for this reason I keep these books nearest to hand. I only wish more writers would consider writing books of this size and shape. Otherwise the nob-ends who think that fiction has ANYTHING to do with how it sits on a shelf will win, and we, the mindlessly violent minority, will lose."

This, however, took the cake:

"I don't shelve books. I eat them. I'm a big book eater. I've been eating books since I was about four. I know it was four because my parents knew about it before I started school and had to warn them. They wrote a letter. In fact they wrote two - I ate the first one. Correspondence is to me what a packet of crisps is to you. I don't like the internet, because you can't eat it. A lot of you people seem to be complaining about a surplus of books. I can help. Seriously I can. Just let me live in your attic or something. Send them up six at a time. I can get through six in an evening. I wouldn't need anything else, just plenty of water and some good toothpicks. You probably don't believe me, but truth is stranger than fiction. Dickens said that. I think a lot of people say it. Dickens doesn't taste so great. Tolstoy said Dickens was a garrulous writer, which means fatty as far as I'm concerned. I wonder if Tolstoy ever ate Dickens? Dickens could have done with eating Tolstoy for sure. I'd better go, I have something on the stove."

Aside from the sore ribs, all this left me with a warm, fuzzy sensation which I think is called fellow feeling. It's nice to know there are this many people out there who are vaguely unhinged in ways you can understand and emapthize with.

For the record, I've long had this fantasy of having a comprehensive library of books, CDs, magazines, backed-up computer files and reference material, all arranged in a rational and integrated manner. But my life so far has been too transient to ever support this, and so I've tended to take the "read and pass on" approach. I own hardly any of the books which I've most enjoyed or which have been most important to me - almost all of these I have either borrowed, got out of the library, or picked up travelling and then passed on.

It's almost like these two tendencies reflect two sides to my personality - on the one hand the introverted, fraidy cat, Cancerian hoarder; on the other, the more reckless, happy-go-lucky, "life is for living" type. I suspect that this second tendency is the weaker, and that at some subconscious level there's a resistance to having a well-stocked, orderly bookshelf, because when this happens, it means the introverted Cancerian has won.


Cecilia said...

Here are my systems:

CDs - alphabetical order, mainly because I have too many to find anything otherwise. Also, I'm just not cool enough to have music which falls into 'genre'

Books - divided into fiction & non-fiction. Within those categories, I order them by size, though if I can group by author within size I'll do it, i.e. all the same size Agatha Christies together (see, I really am a philistine). Someone once commented that it was odd that I started with the biggest books at the top of my bookshelf. I suppose this may not be the more sensible choice since more weight on the bottom is probably safer (I think). Nevertheless, I have moved several times and always put the biggest books on the top shelf then worked down, so I guess it just feels right to me.

Kevin H said...

There are few things more appealing in a home than a wall of books. My definition of happiness: leave me alone in a quiet room full of books with a comfy chair and a cup of coffee.

My family often rents/borrows/swaps houses for our holidays, and one of the joys of a relaxing holiday is lazy days reading selections from someone else's bookshelf.

Susan said...

CDs by artist/group but in no particular order within that. The ones I play most are nearest the front on the double stacked shelves.

Books in some sort of order. Basic categories are classics from when I was growing up (Dickens, Brontes, George Eliot etc), Ethel Turner collection, my father's collection of 1890s and 1930s fiction and commentary on it, New Zealand non-fiction - much of it also from my father, university texts in French and German, reference books like big dictionaries, large books on the bottom, and the rest of it (fiction and biography) that I have bought and read recently or am waiting to read, or waiting to give away shoved in anywhere it fits. Even though I am a librarian by training I have enough of alphabetical order at work and have never arranged anything that way at home!