This is my main bookshelf. All the books have been organized to minimize conflict. The poetry books don’t get along with the novels. The novels want to give the poetry books a wedgie. The poetry books think the novels are long-winded bores that talk too much about their mothers. The novels don’t like the poetry books because the poetry books are flakes that show up three hours late for dinner with shower curtains for pants. The novels also find the poetry books’ choice of intoxicating substances alarming. The novels prefer over-the-counter traditional implements of self-destruction like liquor and smokes, and maybe pills when a deadline is looming. The poetry books–well, let’s just say that anything that can be mixed up in a plastic pail in a motel bathroom is fair game.
The poetry books reside in the upper-left shelf all the way down through the upper-right shelf. The novels reside in the lower-right, then continue in another bookcase across the room. Between them is a demilitarized zone comprised of random selections of history, philosophy, criticism, science and the like. The logic is that for as much as the poetry books and the novels hate each other, they live in such fear of these other books they dare not wander outside familiar territory. The reason is simple. Fact-based writing is poison when your game is delighting readers with word-play or challenging them to walk with open-toed shoes into the village of Macondo.
In what might one day become a literary-themed episode of “Hoarders,” we asked Entropy contributors to talk about their bookshelves. The results vary from organization that would make your local librarian jealous to crammed randomized madness that tempt the screws of these noble structures toward collapse. (Special note from the IKEA pre-fab bookcase people to the built-in bookcase people: We hate you. When can we move in?)
That is a picture of a chunk of my shelves in Austin. There are more like those in Puerto Rico. My system is easy: part chronological order and part stuffing books in any available space. There are stacks in the living room, the bedroom, and the bathroom. I downsize once in a while because I sometimes get unrequested ARCs that I know will never be read (thanks, Harlequin, but I’ll pass on those). I’d like to say the downsizing keeps things manageable, but I buy/get books at much faster rate than I get rid of them, and I almost never get rid of those I like. I hope to move to an apartment with higher ceilings soon.
Here’s my walk-in closet library in my parental home, in Rochester, New York. It’s by type (fiction / non-fiction / poetry / plays) and also by century — 19th British together, for instance. There are also some Best Of shelves, where my favorite are in alphabetical order all together. It’s a lovely space. My cramped apartment in Cambridge is not so alluring: when my boyfriend moved in 1.5 years ago, he took over a fair amount of shelf space and everything is now bedlam and miscellany.
I recently moved so a lot of my books are scattered. I had to downsize from having an entire room for book (my office/library) to a few bookshelves that fit in my room. So they are much more curated now, which isn’t a terrible thing. They’re organized by theme-ish. Philosophy/theory together. Consciousness studies and neuroscience stuff. Tech and sci-fi stuff. Religion and apocalypse stuff. Occult and myth stuff. I group poetry and fiction all together, alphabetical order by author – they’re grouped because so many books I read aren’t easily categorizable as being just straight poetry or prose and I don’t like to force categories, it’s all literary writing. And then pockets of things. Like I love all the Les Figues books together because they match. All the map books are together. etc. And I have special section with books that are most inspiring and important to me at the moment – right now that includes anything related to Bela Tarr, Krasznahorkai, Kenneth Patchen, Alice Notley, and Gaston Bachelard.
These built-ins were a huge part of the reason why we wanted to move into our house. They started or being meticulously organized by genre and Alanbrooke’s, but the organization has fallen by the wayside as new books have been added and daily use continues.
Here are some bookshelves. There are more scattered through the apartment and upstairs. Half my books are still in my grandmother’s garage in Queens. My mother keeps asking if she can throw them away or if I can “do something” with them and I ask her if she is insane. About once a month I want to look something up or read a passage from a book I know I own only to remember it is in my grandmother’s garage. My husband has learned not to ask me about downsizing. I can’t. They are my books and I will never part with them. They are what makes me feel like I am home. They are portals and time machines and real-life reflections of myself. I have never organized them. I sort of just know where they are. I dream of a house with built in bookshelves in every room. And a library with even more books.
My brain is so messy all the time that if I don’t keep a neat and tidy office I go insane. I have a work space in the church rectory. It’s called the St. John’s Spiritual Life Center. So, in these bookshelves I keep just the books I’m working on for reviews, or touting, or my own that I’m trying to sell. Mostly, it’s a place for me to write and reach for something as I need it. Mother Laurie is across the hall, and I love working on a book review or an essay when she’s practicing hymns for Sunday Service, usually on Thursday. As for the religious part, I never directly participate, but it’s nice to keep the new literature around divinity props. I mean, it’s all magic and poetry together.