The Books

I have quite a lot of books.

I’m sure that my library is not nearly as impressive as some. For one, I only permit myself one shelf of unread books. If the shelf fills up, I can’t buy any more new books until I read some on the shelf. For another, many of the books I buy these days are e-books. My Kindle library currently has 212 books in it, and the device fits in my back pocket. And finally, I also actively get rid of books. Once I’ve read a book, if I didn’t really care for it or don’t think I would ever want to read it again, I see no reason to keep it. I take it back to the used bookstore to exchange for store credit.

My books are organized thusly:

  • One entire bookshelf contains fiction, sorted alphabetically by author. I do not separate by genere; anything which falls under the very broad umbrella of fiction is on that shelf. This bookshelf is nearly full and there may need to be a Great Reorganization at some point in the next couple of years. That’s fine. I enjoy that.
  • One shelf contains nontechnical nonfiction. This is a long shelf and it’s basically full. I will soon need to expand it into two shelves, which is again not a problem. It is organized alphabetically by author.
  • One shelf contains oversize fiction. I have a number of books, both hard- and softcover, which are really too large to go with the regular fiction books. I don’t particularly like it that I have to separate out oversize fiction, but if I don’t then it makes shelving much more difficult.
  • One shelf contains technical nonfiction. This shelf contains a cornucopia of technical reference books, including some textbooks from my time in undergrad and grad school. There is a vast wealth of knowledge contained on this shelf. I rarely use it, as Googling the Internet is faster, but sometimes a problem doesn’t require a quick answer, it needs a slow answer. Taking the time to slowly read about something and truly understand it from fundamentals is the only way to solve certain types of problems. I am sometimes called upon to solve these problems, and when I am I like to be ready. It is organized by subject.
  • One shelf contains my Tolkien collection.
  • One shelf contains my Rex Stout collection.
  • One shelf is my unread book shelf. It is organized chronologically, from least-recently-acquired to most-recently-acquired.
  • One bookshelf contains my wife’s books. Her books are mostly organized by spine color. You can tell which books I have given her because they’re dark, uncolorful patches in what is otherwise a rainbow. Our approaches to these things are very different, and I don’t touch her shelf.

I have spent quite a lot of time considering how best to organize my books, and I have come to the conclusion that, for my personal library, genres are counterproductive. I don’t like trying to decide whether a book should be general fiction or science fiction or fantasy. I really don’t like splitting up authors (which is why the oversize fiction shelf makes me a little sad; I feel like The Books of Earthsea should not sit so far from The Left Hand of Darkness and The Wind’s Twelve Quarters). The whole point of having a system is to make it as quick as possible to find a particular book, and if I have to decide which category I (possibly arbitrarily) placed a certain book into, the purpose has not been achieved.

A counter argument — an argument for genreification — is to say that the purpose is not necessarily to facilitate finding any specific book but to best answer the question “what do I want to read right now?” Someone with a craving for science fiction might know to look for Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein and Stephenson but might completely miss Harry Harrison’s most excellent Stainless Steel Rat series, Andy Weir’s Artemis, or Mary Doria Russell’s chilling The Sparrow. But this brings problems…would such a person also want to encounter Missy Meyer’s delightful We Could Be Villains? Is it sci-fi, being set in the present day but with a very high-tech vibe? How about Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, set in what is now very firmly the past but with some very sci-fi elements? I suppose if 2001: A Space Odyssey is still considered science fiction then it is not necessary for such books to take place in the future. The lines do blur, and I very much like clean lines.

This counter argument does not appeal to me. While it serves a library well, libraries are tools for finding new books and authors. Libraries also have catalogs which tell you unequivocally where a given book can be found, eliminating the problem of wondering which section contains a given book or author’s works. I don’t (yet?) have so many books that discovery is the main focus of my library, and usually when I want to reread something, I already know exactly what I’m in the mood for because I’ve read everything on my shelves already so I can just find the thing I want to read again and read it.

I will occasionally be asked which author I have the most books by. Other than the two authors who have their own dedicated shelves, I have 13 books by Neil Gaiman (plus four ebooks). I have 23 books by either JRR or Christopher Tolkien. But I have 46 books by Rex Stout, so he is the clear winner. But that is a story for another day.

This story doesn’t really have a point, except to underline how much I like books.

3 thoughts on “The Books

  1. >One entire bookshelf contains fiction, sorted alphabetically by author. I do not separate by genere; anything which falls under the very broad umbrella of fiction is on that shelf. This bookshelf is nearly full and there may need to be a Great Reorganization at some point in the next couple of years. That’s fine. I enjoy that.

    >One shelf contains my Tolkien collection.

    Fake news!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: