January 20, 2007

Lessons from my bookshelf.

I've spent most of today trying to get properly moved into my new room. This means unpacking my increasingly ridiculous book collection and cramming it into less than half the shelf space that I had in my old room. To manage the ensuing enormous headache and compensate for the inelegance of my shelving, I'm trying to employ some basic librarianship and organize them roughly by genre.

The problem with this is that my rambling, scattered book collection doesn't divide neatly into shelf-lengths of similar items. For instance, to fill the rest of the shelf designated Fantasy, it was necessary for me to include Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, Robert Graves' books on the Greek myths, and eventually my Chinese-language Bible as well. But then I opened another box and realized that the only place I had left for A Game of Thrones was in Respectable Fiction. I couldn't handle that, so I had to take out the Bible and move it to Respectable Fiction instead. This left the Bhagavad-Gita and the aforementioned Greek mythology books still in Fantasy, and prompted a half-hour of nail-chewing and convoluted logical arguments before I agreed to disagree with myself and leave them there.

The whole process is also fraught with uncertainty. Flatland is technically science fiction, but it's old and frail -- by publication date, I mean, not by the condition of my copy -- and I can't bring myself to leave it to the tender mercies of shelfmates like Niven and Asimov. Is Best Bisexual Women's Erotica 2001 fantasy, fiction, or reference? Does my bartending book belong with reference or cookbooks? Is American Psycho respectable fiction, or do I have to set aside a shelf for Disreputable Fiction?

It's also very dependent on my mood. If I'm feeling agreeable I'll put Foucault in Reference or Anthropology, but if I'm feeling particularly grumpy he may have to go in Fiction. An optimistic Dianna would put her language textbooks in Reference, but, honestly, they may be better off in Fantasy. My few issues of Transmetropolitan -- Science Fiction, or gritty realistic Reference? After several hours of this I'm about ready to throw the whole project out and put absolutely everything in Lies.

The real issue, though, the way I see it, is this: what demon could possibly have possessed me to purchase two copies each of two entirely separate X-Files books? I'd still be asking what demon possessed me if I'd only bought one copy of each, but two has me really worried. Was I out of town and unable to cope with being away from my original copies? Did I want a backup set in case I read the originals so many times they fell apart? They all still have that pristine look of uncreased covers and dog-ear-free pages that tells me it's doubtful I ever finished them once (although I cannot in honesty claim I never started them). Am I just horribly forgetful? Did I find them in the bookstore the second time and find them compellingly familiar without knowing why? And is it unethical of me to donate them to the house library as a way to dispose of them with minimal shame? Actually, the free pile is closer to my room and paints a much more accurate picture of their worth. I just can't shake the feeling that it should probably still qualify as illegal garbage dumping.

Posted by dianna at January 20, 2007 11:27 PM

Desperate for reading material, I started those damn X-files books several times. I never got more than five pages in before throwing them down in disgust. Eventually I just read the last chapter of each, and without the terrible urge to know What Happens I'm now free of their awful curse.

Posted by: Jacob at January 21, 2007 09:50 AM

Is there a way to donate books to UCB? I will admit to dumping some items in the house library, of varying qualities. My never-finished, nearly new copy of Lolita is sitting on a desk in there.

Posted by: Elliot at January 21, 2007 10:52 AM

I recently got a new bookshelf and used the occasion to re-organize my books by author, rather than title. This ended up requiring physically rearranging the bookshelves in my room to ensure the order would remain unbroken (this is rearranging after the initial rearrangement to make room for the new bookshelf). My rearangement was also somewhat ill-conceived, since I don't actually know who wrote a good number of my books (It's easy to remember who wrote Lolita, but who wrote my casebook on Evidence?). Still, now it's orderly.

I should probably re-arrange it again by genre, though, as that would actually be useful. Ooo, or I could try to rearrange it autobiographically, like in High Fidelity. Then I'd never be able to find anything! On the plus side, that would make adding new books easier, just shove them on the end.

Elliot: You can donate books to UCB, but you could probably donate them to someone else who will appreciate them more. The library has lots of books and a budget to buy more. When people donate books the library thanks them politely, then quietly sells the books to get money to make their carefully-planned purchases. Unless the book is notably rare or valuable, the library probably isn't interested in it beyond its sale value.

Posted by: Zach at January 21, 2007 12:32 PM

public libraries, on the other hand, can always use books, even if they just turn around and sell it for the cash.

dianna, i have a disreputable fiction shelf. it's helpful for when you want to read something completely unchallenging. it's also kinder to the books, since when you put nick hornby and zora neale hurston on the same shelf they spend all their time fighting and never get anything done.

Posted by: didofoot at January 21, 2007 02:42 PM

public libraries sometimes don't need books. sometimes they have too many and they turn you away when you try to donate more. you can get around this by just dumping the books in the return drop slot, but then i end up just taking the ones that i think look good instead of passing them along to someone in charge. also the friends bookstore lady had 2 boxes of trash romance novels she couldn't sell and she made me take them. i donated them to veterens of america. after my mom and i took the ones we wanted to read.

my books are divided into sci-fi/fantasy, YA, kids, romance, fiction, and non-fiction. non-fiction is further divided into art, asian studies, foreign languages, film studies, women's studies, biographies, poetry/plays, travel, and comics. all of that is also alphabetized. then there's the bookcase of not-yet-reads. i need a 6th bookcase for my birthday though because i've got piles of unshelved stuff everywhere. i need to stop getting free advance copies and going to library book sales. sadly, i'm going to a library book sale next weekend.

Posted by: michele at January 21, 2007 02:54 PM

The major lesson here is that Michele is a much better librarian than I.

Including the top of my dresser, I have four shelves. There's the Yes, I Am Ten Years Old shelf, which contains Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, my embarrassingly large Piers Anthony collection, and some spillovers from Fantasy, namely Madeleine L'Engle and Terry Pratchett. Then there's the SF shelf, divided into Fantasy on bottom and Sci-Fi on top. There's a shelf below that that's split between Reference/Anthropology and Respectable Fiction, and a shelf below that that's pretty much entirely Respectable Fiction. Then there's a stack of five milk crates, containing textbooks, notebooks, non-anthropology schoolbooks, anthropology schoolbooks, and cookbooks. And there are two boxes still unpacked. It's a problem.

And yeah, don't try to give books to the Main Stacks. They just come to me and I laugh at you and give them to the library bookstore.

Posted by: Dianna at January 21, 2007 06:12 PM