It’s been a little while since I last posted here. Since then, the US has leapt into a handcart and gone hurtling off to Hell. It is so much worse, and progressing so much faster, than I had feared. It’s almost laughable, it’s so bad. Meanwhile, Britain’s future under Brexit looks worse and worse but for some reason we’re going to plough ahead with it instead of admitting it’s a Bad Plan. And in further happy news, many environmental scientists think we’ve gone so far that we won’t be able to limit global warming to 2oC. Basically, my friends, it’s the end of the world as we know it.
Among other things – like working – why wasn’t I born to wealth and idleness? – I’ve been bravely engaging with this depressing state of affairs by re-arranging my books. The sky may fall in but at least I’ll be able to lay my hand on my Renaissance poetry as I expire. I was driven to it by too much ogling of Simon’s posts on Other People’s Bookshelves. After reading every single one, I was forced to conclude that Other People’s Bookshelves tend to look much nicer than mine, which have a stuffed-into-every-available-space air to them. They also tend have fewer thick black cobwebs and bits of spider dinners and less dust clinging to the pages. And then, if I’m tidying and cleaning, maybe I should cull a bit too. Viewed practically, I can’t reread all of these books before I die, especially as tempting new books keep being published all the time.
The first thing to do was to think about ordering. I had a large wall of books, which was divided into non-fiction, poetry and drama, and fiction, all then arranged alphabetically by author. There’s a small bookcase in the kitchen, containing gardening books, travel, a paltry few cookery books, books on making stuff. There’s another bookcase in the sitting-room in which my daughter’s books and my art books strive for mastery. My unread books were all crammed into the icy cupboard I pompously refer to as my ‘study’. I never seemed to read any of them... And then in the attic were boxes of children’s books, and let’s not even think about the books still at my parents’ house in Britain...
I decided that, in addition to needing to tidy and cull my books, the TBR system wasn’t working and ordering things alphabetically was boring. (Is this my midlife crisis? Deciding that my shelving system lacks thrills?) Ignoring the art books and the books in the kitchen for the time being, I planned to group the non-fiction by subject and then shelve all the literature – poetry, prose and fiction – chronologically. Great idea, eh? What could go wrong?
This is what happened.
(Well, this is not what happened – if only it had been like this! Edouard John Menta, Maid Reading in a Library, oil on panel, shamelessly filched from Harriet)
First I tackled the non-fiction. That was fun! I’d forgotten how many interesting books I owned, read and unread. All muddled up together, I hadn’t been able to find anything nor looked very much. But now, sitting with their friends, they look much more attractive. There’s a group of wimminy writer books, which includes diaries and biographies and Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, May Sarton, Maya Angelou – also a biography of Ottoline Morrell – but not Lesley Blanche. She’s with the Imperialist travellers, along with Emily Eden and White Mughals, and I put Edward Saïd there too to keep an eye on them. There’s a group of books on Nigeria and another on witchy books, of which I have a surprisingly large number. Perhaps I should change my job.
But I didn’t find many books I wanted to get rid of, though I suspect deep in my heart that I may not ever get round to reading some of them even once.
And it took a loong time....
Then I started on the Everything Else. There are a lot more of them, and unfortunately despite my Cunning Plan to pile some books horizontally and divest myself of others, I didn’t seem to have any more space for them. Possibly a bit less, as, since I was going to get rid of so many books, I had acquired a few replacements, and then, you know, it was Christmas, and then all the bad news in the world and all the great books other people seemed to be reading and writing about...
It turns out that shelving your books chronologically is not a straightforward task after all. For a start, do you choose publication date or composition date for your chronology? Because some novels weren’t published in their authors’ lifetimes, and some earlier texts weren’t published until hundreds of years after they were originally written, yet it would look odd to stick Anna Weamys’s continuation of Sidney’s Arcadia in the twentieth century. On the other hand, how would I know when most of them were originally written – copyright pages give the year of publication and there is no way I am going to faff around trying to find out when pen was originally set to paper for hundreds and hundreds of books.
(Meanwhile, I brought down the boxes of children’s books and stuffed them in one of the bookcases in the study any old how. They look frightful. I haven’t photographed them. I can’t sort them out because I’d have to remove them from the bookcase and I can’t currently reach said bookcase because in front of it are stacks of Everything Else and books I am contemplating culling but can’t quite decide on. Ah well. Later.)
Other problems with my wonderful new system were arising. First, what to do about collected works? Second, checking all the dates and comparing them with other books was taking ages, and I’d open a book, look at the date and forget it as soon as the book was closed.
And then, what a lot of good books I have! Oh, I remember this one, gosh it’s years since I read it, let me see, will I ever read it again? Let’s have a look... Hmmm... Oh no, it’s time to collect E from school, where has the afternoon gone? Definitely need to keep this one anyway... (No, the culling part of the operation has gone extremely badly.)
The end result has been the Fudge System. It’s not strictly chronological, I’ve grouped the books into eras and then arranged them sort of chronologically (publication or composition date according to where they seemed happiest) and sort of by size (for the horizontal ones). I haven’t finished yet, but so far I am really liking the result. I tend to read books according to my mood and now it’s easier to find something that fits. The only possible disadvantage is that now that the TBRs are mingled among my already-read books, I can’t easily see how many there are and there may be less restraint around the acquiring of new books. On the other hand, it will encourage me to handle all my books more, and be content with what I already have, which can only be a good thing.
Still, as I say, I haven’t finished yet. What will happen when I reach the end of the available shelf space with a hundred or so homeless books? Who knows... Maybe you can distract me in the interim by writing about how you shelve your books, possibly posting a few photographs, you know we all want to see them and it is after all the reason I wrote this post...