Wednesday 28 July 2010

Book, book, book, shelf

It might just be that I'm attuned to it, but bookshelves seem to be a topic of much discussion on the web right now.

On the book blog The Millions, Charles-Adam Foster-Simard writes about organising his bookshelves as only a 20-year-old can:

After the toil of the unmaking, now I have to rebuild my library up — restock the shelves that now stand cleared, poised, filled only with light and shadows. After some consideration, the first book I place back on the top left cube, is Beowulf, masterfully translated by Seamus Heaney, the beginning of literature in English. I have to rifle down the spines of a few piles before I finally locate it.

Next up goes Tolkien. I cannot resist — without him I’m not sure Beowulf would even be taught in schools at all. His translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, first, to soften the transition, and then The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Tree and Leaf, and The Children of Hurin. Then I place Herodotus, whom my girlfriend assures me thinks exactly like Tolkien. I am startled by my audacity. There is a jump from 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript to 20th Century fantasy writer to the father of history, a fifth-century Greek — my system is either creative or blasphemous.

Charles-Adam Foster-Simard links through to Sarah Crown and John Crace's more playful article on bookshelf etiquette on the Guardian. After noting that one of the first acts of recently-resigned British politician James Purnell was to rearrange his bookshelves, Crown and Crace run through some of the tried and possibly true methods of organising shelves:

I have a friend who arranges his books generically, with each genre bleeding into the next – science into SF; history into historical fiction. It took him days, but he was a happy man by the end of it. In Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, Everything is Illuminated, a girl derides her lover for ordering his books by colour ("How stupid") – but the system retains a small but passionate following. One colleague orders her books according to which authors she feels would be friends in real life – regardless of the centuries that separate them.

Meanwhile, links to Anthony Dever's tumblr Bookshelf Porn have been flitting about on Twitter. As Monica Racic writes on The New Yorker's book blog, introducing Dever:

I am fascinated by the contents of people’s bookshelves. And I am equally interested in how people organize those books. The arrangement is often just as telling of a person’s personality as the contents of the shelves.

One of my own favourite bits of writing on this topic (which, lets face it, can all get a wee bit pretentious and coy - god knows my own bookshelves couldn't live up to this level of aesthetic or intellectual analysis: books are now being put where they can fit) is Anne Fadiman's essay 'Marrying Libraries' in her anthology 'Ex Libris'. It's not online, so you're going to have to find it on a bookshelf somewhere, if you want to read it. I'm sure, given a little time, I could find it on mine for you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am fascinated by this topic. Recently I discovered someone's bookshelves where the male fiction authors had been segregated from the females.