Monday, March 12, 2012

Library Overhaul

Reorganizing my books was a great idea, in theory. After a recent move, I decided to separate them by type, in addition to alphabetizing them, and while I kept the categories pretty tame and generic (poetry, plays, graphic novels, short stories, fiction, non fiction), I still ran into conundrums that would likely haunt any bookseller or librarian with a keen eye on a daily basis. Where, for instance, would Vikram Seth's novel-in-verse, The Golden Gate go, poetry or fiction? Nabokov's Pale Fire is half poem, half prose.

There were also numerous categories I wanted to add, breaking down the larger sections. I found myself wanting to separate young adult/teen fiction from adult fiction. I wanted to display short story collections apart from novels-in-stories. Novellas would have their own space, but who's to say whether Fahrenheit 451 would lie there or in fiction? And what of Steinbeck's volume of collected short novel(la)s? And if I owned enough of them, I'd definitely want to distinguish biographies from memoirs, a variance so many readers still don't seem to grasp even a little bit.

To get into the classic versus contemporary debate would complicate matters further, still. Does it bother me, on occasion, to see Carver's story collections seated next to Michael Chabon's A Model World and Other Stories? Mayhaps. But I'm not about to embark on a whirlwind reorganization project that undoubtedly ends with me sitting in the middle of the room wondering if Ellison and Eugenides can't just get along after all. And yet, there's something not quite right about the American style of placing contemporary authors next to their legendary counterparts on bookshelves.

In doing this, I realized that while I don't consider myself much of an equal-opportunity reader of every category there is, the new layout visualizes the fact that I don't stick for too long to one genre, the way other readers I know tend to do. Furthermore, it brought to my attention the refusal of a lot of the books I own to be shoved into just one category. And while that made reorganizing more of a challenge, I'm happy to celebrate, above all else, diversity in form. I think we're finally reaching a stage in literature where the understanding exists that a "novel" doesn't have to be a 250-300-page chaptered beginning-middle-end story with consistent font and a succinct genre. I can write a novel-in-flashes about a colony of vampires living in the body of a whale and searching for their soulmates that could feasibly whet a mainstream pub house's palate. I read Shane Jones's Light Boxes and was blown away, not just by the book, but that something less traditional was even sitting on the shelf of a chain bookstore to begin with. So. Long live hybrid books. Even better is I think they're just getting started.

Of course, now my Atwoods and Updikes and Bolanos and Roths are all over the map, so don't be surprised if/when I revert back to my old display a month from now. I'm OCD like that.

PLAYING ONE ON TV is "Best Dressed!"

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