Monday, September 4, 2006

Sorting Books

We spent much of yesterday sorting our books. Sorting is a partial euphemism, of course, because along with placement and grouping we had to make room. We're the kind of people who fill up their bookshelves, then start stacking books on top of the TV, the side tables, floor, chairs (temporarily, of course). One year we went off on a trip and when we came back one of our assistants had taken down all the shelved books, dusted them (thank you so much) and put them back in the order of size. My husband was aghast. Why would anyone do that? he asked more than once. I admit it did look strange: one shelf would run smallest to largest, left to right. A couple of shelves below that, the reverse.

So here on Labor Day weekend we decided to fix it, and while fixing, to find a home for all those other books lying in stacks around us. We made good progress, too, although the job's not yet done. We arranged fiction in alphabetical order--just the books that really mean something to us. We’d had some of the books double stacked, since we were in a rush to unpack other things when we moved in, so in arranging them, I discovered old friends: A.S. Byatt’s Possession; The Stories of John Cheever; Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War. I also discovered a copy of One Man’s Meat, by E.B. White, which I had ordered a couple of weeks ago from my local independent bookstore.

But that left non-fiction and I'm having the usual trouble I do with filing things that aren't electronic bits and bytes. There are too many options. You can't group by author successfully, because who remembers the name of the author of each biography? (Well, I don't.) Can’t group by title, either, because the title usually has nothing to do with the subject. (Exception: One Art, the Letters of Elizabeth Bishop). So that leaves either type (memoir, biography, belles-lettres) or you can group by subject. I have a lot of books on France, for instance, so they go together. I have a long shelf of poetry, which can be grouped within itself by alphabet. But then I have William Merwin's The Lost Upland--stories of southwest France. So should that go with Merwin’s poems, or in a travel group. Or just on the French shelf? (This is what I picked, but it still distracts me, to see his name so far away from the poetry shelf.) I’m still struggling with this, but all the books are off the floor and we have about four and a half feet of shelf space left to receive the ones stacked in chairs.

Happy Labor Day!

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