M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Monday, March 10, 2003  

Pump Up the Volumes

I remember the first big bookcase Trash and I bought together. It came from a furniture store on Hennepin and Lake, three blocks from our apartment. It was nearly my height and cost us a little over thirty dollars. Along with a pair of shorter bookcases, it held all of our books. Eventually it filled up and I had to go back to the store to buy a new one. That time, we didn’t have a car and I had to borrow a hand truck from the store and wheel it three blocks up Hennepin Avenue, where I discovered that they look much smaller in the store and I’d gotten the wrong size, so I had to wheel it back down three blocks of Hennepin Avenue, and wheel the correct one three blocks back home, and then return the hand truck, and by this time I was on a first-name basis with the people dining at the hip sidewalk café at the halfway point. “Have a good evening, everyone,” I called out on my third trip home, and they waved and applauded and someone gave me half of his dessert.

Fast-forward twelve years. We still have that first bookcase, but I couldn’t tell you which one it is if you put it on top of me. We have about a dozen large bookcases which, along with that same pair of shorter bookcases, almost hold all of our books. During the past two years of sporadic home renovations, each one of those bookcases has been emptied, moved to a different room, sometimes moved back (and sometimes not), and reloaded, in many cases with whatever books were nearest to hand. That’s an exaggeration; we did manage to maintain different general areas for paperback novels, hardcovers, horror, SF, mystery and non-fiction, but the chaos was barely held at bay. Any organization existed only in the most general sense; our house was the only place where one could find The Autobiography of Malcolm X cover-to-cover with Doctor Who and the She-Bitches from Neptune.

This is something of a problem for me. If I’m looking for a book in that environment, I’m going to need to look in ten bookcases on at least two sides of as many as four different rooms. By the time I find what I’m looking for, I’ve forgotten what it is and I have to start over. And that’s if I don’t get distracted by all the other books I’ve been scanning past that are also not organized. It’s not an issue for Trash, which is something of a paradox given the fact that she’s a librarian and, according to the stereotype, should be arranging our shampoo bottles to correspond with the correct order of their colors in the visible spectrum. But in this sense, as in 95% of the other senses, she defies the stereotype. She can get away with it because she basically knows where every item in our house is at all times. So, in theory, I could ask her, “Hey, where’s my copy of The Stainless Steel Rat Paints the Ceiling?” and she would say, “On the second bookcase against the back wall in the study, third shelf down, about two-thirds to the right, between Love and Crude and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dummies.” But she can only do that if she was the last person to touch the object in question, which, in the case of The Stainless Steel Rat Paints the Ceiling, is almost never the case.

So we’ve been meaning to re-organize the books ever since we threw them all up in the air and stuck them into whichever shelf they landed closest to. But it seems like there’s always something more important to do, like stick the cat’s head in my mouth or play another round of “which of my eyes is open?” Besides, I’m always arguing with her over whether Samuel Taylor Coleridge should be filed under “Coleridge,” “Taylor,” or “dead guys,” or whether a given book with a lot of “I”s should be counted as a novel or a memoir, or whether something should go with the children’s books just because I like it, or whether we should skip traditional shelving systems altogether and sort them according to binding style. So we haven’t gotten around to it.

But Trash was out of town this weekend, and I found myself with a few hours to kill before I had to pick her up from the airport, and I went to work. Alphabetizing. Sexy, no?

The books in the study haven’t been alphabetized since we moved them there from what’s now the second bedroom, almost a year ago. The books in the living room have never been alphabetized (except all the Stephen King hardcovers were together, but I think they had just accreted that way as a result of each other’s gravitational pull). Which left me spending part of Saturday evening and much of Sunday afternoon handling most of the books we own. Never let anyone tell you that my weekends at home alone aren’t filled with glamour and excitement.

The secret was to not have any illusion that anything was going to stay exactly where I put it. I just saw my alphabetizing efforts as the beginning, a starting point for the real sorting and categorizing. Laying the groundwork, if you will, and since I got tired and stopped when there were still ranks of non-fiction hardcovers littering the living room floor, I kind of hope you won’t, because that would be a pretty cheesy pun on your part.

And you know what else I realized? This is going to be the first time we’ve really gone through all our books and put them in order since Trash graduated from librarian school. So that should mean a lot less disagreements now that people with advanced degrees have told her the stuff about shelving that I’ve been telling her for years. Like, maybe she’ll finally believe me now when I say that W comes before U in the alphabet.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. Unless it’s way too boring, of course.

posted by M. Giant 3:21 PM 0 comments


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