Books on shelves
I’ve been battling a dreaded lurgy* for the last several days and one of the things that goes first when I need extra troops on other fronts** is responding to forum threads.*** But I’ve been fascinated at the number of people posting—and number of different ways described—about how they organise their books. So I thought I’d respond here.
I’m basically an alphabetizer . . . sort of.† I drift in and out of alphabetising, depending on life circumstances and numbers of books involved. I’ve always split things up somewhat by category as well—nonfiction and fiction at very least, but usually a few more large rough divisions too. Rule One: No system really, totally works. Quite a few of you say that you wouldn’t dream of alphabetising: you organise by intuition. I don’t myself find this works once the collection is above a few hundred items.†† When I’ve been living in small spaces with small numbers of books, I organise by intuition. As soon as there are several rooms involved, I start getting all boring and standard and cozy with the alphabet. Also, I have this husband. I would say that intuitive organising is hard on the person(s) whose intuition it isn’t. The alphabet you can (mostly) share.†††
At the moment, but these things change, Peter has the ‘literature’, novels, poetry, plays, short stories, and collections thereof—the last mostly hived off into the downstairs loo. No, really. No shower in there to make things damp, and this long wall that was obviously made for bookshelves long before anyone thought of putting a toilet in. He also has about half of the gardening books—his half, approximately—and a few practical cookbooks—he doesn’t read cookbooks the way I do—my Encyclopaedia Britannica‡ and my Compact Oxford Dictionary.‡‡ Biographies of authors are also shelved with the author, not the author of the biography‡‡‡.
I have the genre stuff.§ Picture books and outsize books with lots of illustrations§§ have their own shelves. Most of the rest of my office and bedroom are given over to an alphabetised hodgepodge of kids’, YA and fantasy and SF—except for Kipling and Tolkien, which are downstairs in the witches’ grotto, I mean the sitting room, in their own dedicated shelves, with folk and fairy tales§§§ on one side and swathes of nonfiction more or less by type on the other.# The totally unclassifiable nonfiction is at Third House in a kind of putting-off-the-inevitable, or, there-is-this nice-little-niche-with-these-nice-little-built-in-shelves-in-the-sitting-room-which-were-probably-the-previous-owner’s-ONLY-bookshelves.## Murder mysteries are also at Third House, alphabetised with the more-or-less straight adventure, like John Buchan and PC Wren; and animal books, barring dog books (see below), everything from Vicki Hearne and Frans Van der Waal to identifying wild animal tracks and Mammals of Australia.### And speaking of unclassifiable, my collection of non-traditional not to say whacked-out reference, shamanism, dowsing, astrology, and so on, are at Third House, while my homeopathy books are at the cottage on the wall behind my desk. And the wall by my side of the bed is (a) a few select favourites good to have at immediate hand during nightmare season° (b) a rather too vast range and number of books I haven’t read yet (c) my foundation homeopathy books since I tend to read the too-many quarterly journals in bed and end up with reference books everywhere anyway (d) er . . . dog books.
Maybe I’m sort of an intuitive alphabetiser.
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* One of the minor pleasures of living in England is that everyone knows what the dreaded lurgy is here. http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/the+dreaded+lurgy In America, at least America of twenty years ago, only strange late-night watchers of public TV and aficionados of ancient British comedy knew.
** A problem Sylvi is having at the moment.
*** Note that I ALWAYS READ BLOG POST THREADS. ALWAYS.
† Diane in MN mentions that there was a brief period in her life when all her books were also numbered. Yup. Me too. Some of my old favourites still have tiny neat numbers on their back flyleaves in my staggeringly neat teenage printing. Tiny? Neat? Me? I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have proof.
†† Any collection. I can’t remember when I stopped organising my opera by feel. Possibly when I shifted over from LPs to CDs.^ I still organise different recordings of the same work by feel however: period instruments together, for example, and in piano music the blokes tend to hang together and the women at the other end. For the few items or collections I have that many copies of Angela Hewitt tends to be the crossover point. I haven’t got a standard singer crossover but any opera I have a Beverly Sills recording of she’s first.
Music is an intolerable ratbag however since so few [classical] CDs are actually only one thing. It’s almost enough to make me stick to opera.
^ Another reminder that I am That Old.
††† Du Maurier. The D or the M?
‡ To which I am—yes—still buying the yearbooks, partly, at this point, to see how long they continue printing them. There is a certain recalcitrance about the yearbooks, but Peter uses the encyclopaedia, and at the moment I’m still successfully maintaining that if you have the encyclopaedia, you have to have the yearbooks. The day that that side of the mews falls in because of one yearbook too many, I will move the lot up to Third House. With its purpose-built attic floor.
‡‡ The one that is two ginormous volumes that each weigh as much as a hellhound, plus an addendum volume, all of which stuffed with tissue-paper pages you need—literally—a magnifying glass to read. I’m getting positively nostalgic here, since I now mostly use the CD version—which has the repellent habit of needing to be validated when the validating CD is at the other house. Whichever house happens to be other at the time.
‡‡‡ Which is another ratbag, when you have favourite biographers. Claire Tomalin, say, I think I have six of her books—but I’m not sure; or Hermione Lee, and what do I do with BODY PARTS, which is a (lovely) book of essays on the art of biography? Or Miranda Frelling Seymour who is worse yet, since she also writes novels herself. Or Jenny Uglow, or Fiona MacCarthy, for example, who may write about groups—social biography, aaaaaaugh—or, of course, about people who aren’t writers.^
The other ones I’m mostly willing to let get on with it, but I’m considering an act of major mutiny, and having a Claire Tomalin shelf.
^ Okay, wait. There has to be a biographer bloke here somewhere . . . um . . . Michael Holroyd!
§ There will be a further blog on labels and labelling.
§§ A tentative and mutable selection since art books are elsewhere.
§§§ A folk-and-fairy-tales designation takes precedence. You may also be a picture book or fabulously illustrated by a famous artist. But you’ll go in the fairy tale shelves.
# This includes, for example, art and music, and biographies of artists and musicians/singers/composers are slotted in here.
## Or maybe they held china and noodgy objects.
### Except for the identifying-local-British-flora-and-fauna books, which are at the cottage, with the hands-on practical living-close-to-the-land/self-sufficiency stuff like John Seymour. As are my half of the gardening books. Well, there are a few gardening books at Third House too. Are you confused yet? The funny thing is that while there are a few permanent bugbears, like biographies generally, mostly I know instantly where something goes. I’ll tell you more about my strange random range of nonfiction some other day. It so reflects some of the stuff that comes up over and over in my stories.
° It’s not a wholly bad thing, going to bed rather too soon before dawn. Gives you much better odds that when you wake out of a proper screaming nightmare, it’ll be daylight.
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