20 August 2010

An ordered existence

Don't judge me. Or do, makes no nevermind. As I unpacked books on to my beautifully rebuilt shelves, I realized a couple things. First, someone has my copy of David Rhodes' Driftless, and it is driving me crazy. The best book I've read in five years can't simply be gone. Give it back. I need to make M read it. As a test. Second, I realize how many books I love I simply don't own. I have utilized the library too damn much. But my third, greatest finding is this: it makes complete sense to me to arrange books by color. Before you all go running for your copy of The Care and Feeding of Books: Rules and Regulations for an Uptight World, hear me out. I have spent a lot of time with books over my 42 years (31 years if you go by my brother's aging algorithms); I have spent years working with them professionally, designing, editing and proofreading them. And I know this: I remember books by what they look like. I know that the cover of America America (Ethan Canin) is as pastoral as its title suggests (and completely anachronistic, given the sordid story contained therein). I remember that the swirling water on Swimming in a Monsoon Sea (Shyam Selvadurai) helped me overcome my revulsion of teal, and that the crisp white volume of We Regret to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Children (Philip Gourevitch) is a devastatingly effective setup for the genocidal horrors found within its pages.

So, with some exceptions (knitting books are segregated and stacked together because they're mostly ugly; cookbooks have their own shelves closer to the kitchen), my books are arranged not by author, subject matter, or genre. Black gives way to grey, and white has a shelf of its own. In the corner, red begins the march down the rainbow (which totally doesn't look gay when it's books, bytheby). I'm surprised I don't have more orange books, and I'd like to suggest that cover designers use blue only as a last resort; my shelves can't handle more indigo. My little library behind the piano looks good, and it makes me happy. But even better? I can name that title in one color, and hand it over to you to read and love. Just give it back when you're finished.


  1. I think your bookshelf looks perfectly lovely. And if your goal is to never allow me to peruse its presumably equally lovely contents on my own, my mind flowing from one literary topic to another as easily as my eyes glide from left to right, or right to left, or up to down, or down to up, while judging your taste in books and seeing where our interests overlap and you may have something to offer me, then your organizational system is also perfectly successful. I just won't be able to handle all the topical skipping around required to study your bookshelves in detail.

    But seriously, how have you organized a series of books by the same author, where each book is a different color? (I'm putting Deb on alert here for answers which show you're a danger to yourself and others.)

  2. Beautiful! Looks like a happy, cozy place to be.

    Do you remember books with or without dust jackets? As much as I love the fancy (or not so, in some cases) artwork on dust jackets, part of me longs to yank them off every book I own and savor the shiny letters embossed on the spines.

  3. The IDEA of arranging shelving books by color seems really arbitrary to me, but in practice it probably makes a lot of sense.

    We have books arranged by more than one system (genre, size, date of acquisition ...) but ultimately I locate them by remembering where I saw them shelved most recently.

    Unfortunately there are also numerous stacks of 'just acquired', 'currently reading', 'read (or lent & returned) and not sure whether to re-shelve or recycle' ...

  4. I like the color sort scheme. (Are those Harry Potter books that are outside the color sort?) I fear I have failed at least one of your tests: I do like teal.

  5. As soon as the page loaded - I looked at the picture of the books and thought.. 'Those are arranged by color and I LIKE it!' Finding a fresh way to organize our lives is always nice.


As always, civility reigns, but cleverness trumps.

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