Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The shelf-ish gene

Well, another one of the moving rituals is completed; all the books are unpacked. Every time I do this, I have the righteous intention of organizing the books into some kind of sensible order. And every time, I get about 80% of the way there and then give up because there aren’t enough large format hardbacks to justify raising that shelf one notch higher, but there are still too many books about Morrissey.

It all goes to show that I'd have made a lousy librarian. Not for the conventional reason, that it's a dull job: I've never quite understood that idea. Casanova was a librarian. And then there are those twin titans of creative curmudgeonhood, Philip Larkin and Bob Swipe. And our school librarian, Mr Middleton, who sounded like Geoffrey Boycott but looked like Martin Sheen, which is a pretty memorable combination. No, the reason I'd fail to match these splendid wielders of the date stamp is that I lack the ruthless devotion to method and systems without which the whole thing would fall apart. Librarians; brain surgeons; conceptual physicists; contract killers.

So, each time I fill the shelves, I come up with a new method, one that pays lip service to Dewey, but also tips its hat to that greater god, "seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time". In this, of course, I'm only following in the footsteps of Rob Fleming, the hero of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, who rearranged his record collection at times of emotional turmoil. Although I could never hope to adopt his signature method - autobiographical - because I can never remember which of the stories I've told about my reading habits are true. I know for a fact that I read Less Than Zero at the age of 18 on a night train from Montreal to New York; but did I really read Zuleika Dobson at Magdalen College, Oxford, the night before my admission interview? I told someone that I'd realised the reality could never match Beerbohm's fantastic vision, and was thus reconciled to my ultimate failure. But that sounds like bollocks, and it probably is.

So, this time round, I set aside two shelves for the dozens of books relating to Asia that we've acquired over the last - gulp - four years. Thailand on one shelf; general and others on the one below. All fine so far. Then a shelf for cookbooks. And that's where the problem starts. What about Asian cookbooks? Asian fiction? Asian books about Morrissey? Maybe this is the essential difference between Mr Middleton and me: his mind was constructed as a rigid, hierarchical pattern of sets and subsets; mine is like a bloody great Venn diagram, decorated with Post-It notes and flecks of Tipp-Ex and occasional toast crumbs. And pencilled marginalia about Vietnamese cookbooks. Do you have a system? Or a conscious lack of one? Do let me know. I'm sure everyone will find it fascinating.

Still on a vaguely bibliophile note, a fellow writer has flagged up a new way for me to torment myself about the performance of Welcome to the Machine. Rather than keeping tabs on the yo-yoing Amazon ranking, I can see at a glance the relative stock levels in every branch of Waterstone's. Which just makes me wonder why the buyer in Newcastle upon Tyne has more faith in my ability to shift units than the one in Burton on Trent. Unless of course they each bought the same number, but a few people in Burton-on-Trent actually decided to buy one. See what I mean? Torment...

Further afield, I don't have sales figures for LA, just anecdotal evidence...

PS: More about Waterstone's here, not that I'm obsessed or anything.

21 comments:

Murph said...

Sounds more Huey & Lewey than Dewey to me. All that record sorting has been rather killed off by the wonderful I-tunes. It won't seem the same when you're carrying around 20,000 books in your key-ring.

Anyway, come on Newcastle Watersone's - get a window display going or something!

Robert Swipe said...

"Casanova was a librarian. And then there are those twin titans of creative curmudgeonhood, Philip Larkin and Bob Swipe."

Why is it I *always* get bracketed with Larkers???

Enjoying the book, btw.

L.U.V. on ya,

Bob

treespotter said...

just rearranged my bookshelf the other day, not sure how i did it, more based on my preference, airport novels, fiction i like, fiction i used to like, reference non fiction, boring non fiction etc.

most importantly, according to my girlfriend, now the bookshelf look symmetrical and pleasing to the eyes.

orange anubis said...

My books are in no order at all, fiction and non-fiction have just been thrown onto whatever shelf fits. Although I've managed to keep sheet music and graphic novels together, respectively.

Oh, it's my fault there isn't a Welcome to the Machine left in the Gower Street Waterstones.

Annie said...

...makes me wonder why the buyer in Newcastle upon Tyne has more faith in my ability to shift units than the one in Burton on Trent

Do Waterstones have booksellers who buy for their own sections still? I used to work as a buyer (art, music, architecture - all the big sellers. Not) for an evil corporate American chain of bookstores - I think you know who I'm talking about - most of the buying was done at the head office, not in store, and they'd buy just based on sales of similar titles etc (or if publishers paid to place it front of store) not really on the book's merits, or knowledge of that shop's own customer base... I was buying for Glasgow, Cornwall, etc, and frankly didn't have a clue.

poor till monkeys, I used to think, takes all the fun of out of the job when you have no special section to call your own...

Billy said...

"Bigger" books (including yours) go on the higher shelf, everything else just gets stuffed in where I can fit it. Several shelves have books on top of each other. It takes me ages to find any particular book.

patroclus said...

Aww Billy, I read your comment after Annie's and for a minute I thought you meant you had your own bookshop. And it sounded really great, like the one in Black Books.

Spinsterella said...

I'd LOVE to be a librarian.

Mainly the bit about swanning around with big pile of hardbacks adn sneering at undergraduates and having long sexy hair and specs.

Robert Swipe said...

"Mainly the bit about swanning around with big pile of hardbacks adn sneering at undergraduates and having long sexy hair and specs."

Yep, that's about the size of it, Spin. Well, aside from the big pile of hardbacks, adn [sic] sneering at undergraduates and having long sexy hair.

Oh, and the specs, obviously...

And we're "curmdgeonly" too, by all accounts.

L.U.V. on ya,

Bob

p.s. did you spot the 'berth'/'birth' typo in Tim's book?

(I'll get back to you with the page number...)

amylola said...

many books. no order at all. when i can't find what i know i have, i go buy another copy. adds to the stacks, and subtracts from my checking account. i have dreams of fiction alphabetical by author's last name, and nonfiction in reasonable categories. i'm not teaching this summer, so that's a plan. pull 'em all off the shelves and sort 'em out.

or not.

Paul in the Village said...

So tottering teetering piles aren't good enough for you. Get you. Ex libris is the book you need to read to explore the different cataloging options. And there's also the question of combining collections, and do you keep the duplicates.
Also - four years now - strewth. Seem like no time at all (at all).

Billy said...

P: I wish I did have a book shop like off of Black Books it would be fantastic.

Robert Swipe said...

I am *genuinely* enjoying the book Tim. I started it yesterday and I'm on page 194...

When you say you're pleased I'm enjoying it, sorta..do you mean you're pleased I'm sort of enjoying it? Or you're sort of pleased I'm enjoying it??

I'm intrigued by the way that your own positioning (i.e. living in Bangkok) intrudes into the text. It really does reinforce the [specifically Eastern] spiritual thread that runs through the some of the songs - indeed, the first review I read of the LP when it came out (Q?) was quite insistent that the bell at the end was Buddhist in origin. But I defer to your more reliable and extensive research that it is a triangle (and yes, I *will* still have a listen to make sure...! (;?)

Great stuff, really.

L.U.V. on ya,

Bob

Annie Rhiannon said...

Ohhh, I loved Less Than Zero. Especially the bit when his friend is describing some horrible rape / murder and asks him what he thinks and he says "That's just terrible..." and then he realises his friend is getting excited about an idea for a snuff film.

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

Well, I don't have a system for my books. But I do perodically attempt to catalogue my ever increasing DVD collection in some sort of coherent order.

However I fall into the same pitfalls. Should I do it by director? Or by genre? Or by language? Or by age? Or by how aesthetically pleasing the covers go together? And what about boxsets?

So many variables...
Anyway, the important thing is that the nobler elements like Kind Hearts & Coronets are not placed too near to the Jurassic Park trilogy boxset...

Tim Footman said...

Like everyone, I'm besotted with the Billy's Bookshop concept. A yummers cookbook section... a shelf full of sidling manuals...

But I do like Treespotter's category of "fiction I used to like" as well.

Tim Footman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Footman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Footman said...

Sorry about that. Triple-posting, would you believe?

Murph said...

You can get a Billy Bookcase in Ikea!

llewtrah said...

My somewhat geeky nature means my books are sorted by genre and mostly filed alphabetically by author. My CDs are also in genres and alphabetically by band. This makes it much easier to find what I want rather than trying to remember what colour the spine is! I haven't yet sorted my sock drawer alphabetically by colour.