The Pleasures of a Disorganized Library

Confession: I stole this title from the below article. It was too good to pass up, and since I’m sharing the article with you anyway, I decided to go for it.

I was concerned when I began this blog that I would eventually run out of ideas, run out of things to say. (For those of you who know me personally, this may seem like an impossibility, but still, there’s always the chance that can happen. Cave under pressure, that sort of thing.) Luckily, I’ve been realizing that inspiration can come from anywhere – especially when friends send you links to great articles that you then poach ideas from for your own blog.

Case in point – a friend sent me this article:

The Pleasures of a Disorganized Library by Gina Barreca

Reading this article promptly made me consider my own hodgepodge of shelves. The article begins with the premise that the world holds two types of people – those who alphabetize their shelves and those who don’t. I fall into the non-alphabetized category.

The article made me consider something I had only done instinctively before. Having moved (again) fairly recently (last July), I have a pretty clear memory of unpacking 10 boxes of books and trying to decide what went where. There was the shelf in my bedroom (for personal favorites and what I’m currently reading), the shelf in the game room (guilty pleasures and school books), and the shelf in the living room (everything else). That part was set. Now what went where on the actual shelves?

In perusing my bedroom shelves, here is what I found out about my own loosely organized books. Heavier books are on the bottom shelf, consisting mostly of photo albums with a few coffee table and craft books thrown in there. Next up is a shelf of children’s books – current favorites and autographed copies. The one above that, right in the middle of the shelf would start the hardcover favorites; some adult, some children’s titles. They’re lumped together vaguely by unofficial made-up-in-my-head categories, such as “guilty pleasure reading” [the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey – shout-out to Ms. Carey who links to independent booksellers on her website!], “classic literature” [Louisa May Alcott], “contemporary children’s literature” [Laurie Halse Anderson], “adult favorites” [A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl]. Third shelf from the top are all out-of-print copies of favorites from childhood – versions I never had as a kid and can only afford now that I’m an adult – books such as A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter and original copies of the Nancy Drew series by Caroline Keene (who, funny enough, if you didn’t know this already, is not a real person but simply the pseudonym for a group of authors). Second from the top, you start getting into the adult titles. These are grouped, apparently, by subject matter – travel writing [Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach], essays [Anne Fadiman], short stories [Dorothy Allison], and full novels [Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger]. On the top shelf would be more of the same, these even more loosely arranged as just favorites across the board. My poetry is on this shelf [William Blake], my Anne of Green Gables, my dog-eared pages of children’s classics [Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster] (despite how chauvinistic they may seem to me now as an adult). Last, but not least, there’s the top of my already over 6 ft tall bookshelf, upon which rests crafting books, laid carefully on their sides, and an encyclopedia of children’s authors edited by Anita Silvey. I remember placing the bulk of these books on the shelf, moving them around and adding many more in the months I’ve been here, but what amazes me is that this is really the first time I’ve taken a good look at the organization. It was really done instinctively, which I mentioned before; it’s kind of amazing when you think about it. Wonder what my shelves say about me – maybe some sociologist or psychologist has done a study. Bookshelf arrangement = deep dark insights into your psyche.

What do your shelves look like? And what, do you think, do they say about you?

2 thoughts on “The Pleasures of a Disorganized Library

  1. I *love* Alice Steinbach's Without Reservations. It's a great read that I just passed on to Victoria and her daughter last week. I like your thoughts about the organization of books as a window to the soul. I'm not sure what mine say about me. Bookshelves that were once organized and even alphabetized have now lost almost all semblance of a system.

  2. I find this rather hilarious because as I was reading T.S. Spivet during dinner tonight I came across the following sentence "Shelving is an intimate thing, like the fingerprint of a room." I decided to post on my shelving habits (they're, um, detailed) without realizing that you'd blogged on the same subject three days ago. Great minds think alike, clearly…Buried

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