My books have outgrown their shelves. On some shelves, books are stacked two-deep. Without space to put each in her place, they are disorganized, jumbled. I have done my best to keep the Poetry together; the History and Religious texts and Short Stories each have their place, in a way. But Super Sad True Love Story is lain across the tops of The Brothers Karamazov and Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity. Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature sits next to The Hitchhiker’s Guide.
In odd places, I’ve succeeded. Both copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (one annotated) occupy the same shelf. My small collection of three books by Gregory Maguire are all together. But next to that is the first book of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and then Saramago’s Blindness, and The Odyssey.
The editor in me does not like this kind of disorganization. The person who gets tripped up by the odd missing period in a published work, the strange misspelling of a name, becomes stalled whenever presented with the mess that is my current library. But the editor in me is also one of the stalling factors. I’m better at asking questions than answering them, sometimes. Better at finding solutions than picking just one.
At my previous house (two-three dozen books ago, and with a few more shelves) my library was neat and tidy. Art Reference, Science, Literature, Children’s Books, History (subdivided into Religious, Classical, and Chinese) each had its own place. Each book was arranged Alphabetically by author. But that’s such a simplistic narrative. Sometimes, isn’t it more fun to tell a story in a different way?
My friends will attest to the fact that when I have a big story to tell, the story of a breakup or quitting a job, that I’ll ask them how they’d like to hear it. Do you want the story the way I learned it, or do you want the one with more interesting irony from the beginning? Do you want the quick and dirty, or the sad and poetic? I feel the same way about any story. There are so many ways to tell it. So many feelings to evoke in the telling. Structure itself can do a great deal.
So now, when I look at my bookshelves, I’m deciding on the structure. This jumbled mess is annoying, but strangely, I’ve learned the placement of things. I can still find the books I want when a friend comes calling, asking for something new to read. And I can’t decide what kind of story I want to tell with my library. The Dewey Decimal story is maybe too obvious.
I’ve thought about doing the research that would allow me to put my entire collection into chronological order by first publication. I’ve thought about trying to put each into a context. Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity could find its home next to the original. All of the weird spin-offs of Pride and Prejudice could live together, flowing seamlessly into books about zombies. Or I could take a tip from Hi Fidelity and try to arrange my books in the order of my own life. My children’s books at the beginning, Reed’s curriculum in the center, and at the other end, the children’s books I’ve accumulated for a different reason.
I can never decide. The frustration of disharmony is wearing on me, but I can’t start ripping books off shelves without a plan. So there they sit: Vonnegut, Nabokov, Wilde, Picoult, Lawrence, and Vidal, all crammed together, waiting for me to come to some conclusion about form and structure at last.