There have been complaints recently by my family members (i.e. my husband) about the piles of books that have taken over various parts of the house. The kitchen table has two stack of books that are getting so high they are threatening to topple over and crush one of the cats. The book piles are also in the way of the cats’ favorite window from which they view the yard; notice the picture of Henry attempting to navigate around the books in order to watch a chipmunk that has made a nest under his favorite window.
Then there are the various piles on the coffee table, the top of which table can barely be seen because of the amount of books. (As I look at this photo I realize it’s probably not a great idea to have so many candles among my books.)
But it is not that I am lazy or unwilling to move my books. My issue is one of organization and trying to make decisions about which books go where and oftentimes these important decisions paralyze me. I like to keep the pile of books that I really want to read immediately (which has grown impossibly large) as close to me as possible, thus all of the Vergil books currently hanging out on my coffee table. I also like to categorize books by my favorite publishers: thus I have a handsome collection of Seagull Books and New York Review of Books. But then I also like to collect books by author and by topic. And finally, my Classics books are organized by subject—Greek tragedy, for instance, and within each of those categories books are further organized by author—Aeschylus, Euripides, etc.
The conundrum I have comes when a book falls into more than one shelving category; for instance, I have collected many Ann Carson books, but one of them is a NYRB publication, so where do I put that book? It seems that it ought to go in the Carson section, but then my NYRB collection seems lonely and incomplete without it. And what should I do with the Bachmann/Celan Correspondence book that I recently reviewed? I want to put it with the other Seagull titles, but then again I have a growing section of Bachmann books and a small section of Celan poetry. Oh, and I also have a shelf of books all about letters and correspondence (the Letters of Virginia Woolf, Love Letters of Great Men, Nabakov’s Letters to Vera, etc.)
Nothing aggravates me more than when I can’t find a book because I forgot where I shelved it. I have been looking for my copy of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening for weeks. Did I put it with the philosophy books? It isn’t with the other Nancy titles. I bought a translation of Propertius’s poetry that has the exact same cover as the Nancy book. Should I have a section of books that have the same covers? It’s really exhausting. My husband has generously offered to build me another bookshelf or two; although this also further enables my habit of book hoarding.
How do my fellow bibliophiles organize books? I would love to see some photos!