Monday, September 18, 2006

Organizing Bookshelves

I just posted this at Critical Mass, but had to post it here too, in part to explain why this blog has been quiet lately: Jay Parini has a fun essay in the current Chronicle of Education about his obsession with other people's bookshelves, and the secrets that lurk behind them: "A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements."

Reading that made me laugh: Over the years, my father and I have had endless discussions about the organization of our bookshelves, which we change all the time, usually when we're supposed to be doing something else, like finishing a story for a presssing deadline. Currently, mine is organized by genre (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, with trinkets separating each genre -- a stone gargoyle, a picture of my nephew, a small rubber brain), then by category within genre (science, general nonfiction, memoir, etc, which gets tricky when books fall in more than one category), then alphabetical by author within each category. Those books stand one next to the other on the shelf, but I have special categories within each category for subjects I plan to write about someday -- those books lie flat, stacked one on top of the other, also alphabetized by author.

So I read Parini's essay and thought, someone looking at my bookshelves will immediately learn three things about me: I'm a science nerd, I'll someday write about Appalachia and memory and tattoos, and I probably have a borderline case of OCD, which I clearly inherited from my father, whose shelves are even more intricately organized than mine.

Parini's essay was quite timely for me, because this week I start putting all my books in boxes (alphabetically and categorized) because I'm moving and leaving my wall of built-in shelves behind (that, combined with a big story deadline, explains the quiet blog). This is exciting, because it means I have to buy new bookshelves, which means I have to re-organize my books by shelf as well as category and author ... It's all about perfectly organized chaos.

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Anonymous Darren Cormier said...

I just came across your blog during a search of the U of Memphis' creative writing MFA program. (I am considering application.)
But, if you found Parini's essay (which I have yet to read) amazing, there are two others you might find just as enthralling:
"Unpacking my Library" from the inestimable Walter Benjamin, and "My Odd Shelf" by the bibliomanic (or bibliophilic) Anne Fadiman, in her equally bibliophagic collection of essays Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, about the shelf of our libraries full of misfit books, those that defy categorization.
-dmc- (soon to be blogging on

1:42 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Skloot said...

Hey Darren: Great suggestions. I've read all but "Unpacking my Library," which I'll have to check out (especially now as I, once again, pack and unpack my books). If you have any questions about the Memphis program, feel free to email me.

1:12 PM  

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