After a moderately hellish Anno Domini 2008, the solstitial vacation was quite welcome. Rooms were frantically cleaned, relatives descended, food was devoured, and tasty, tasty beer from my birth state was consumed. At last, the wreckage cleared, I found myself at ends for a few days.
When M—— and I moved to our current house, five years ago or so, the books were not neatly organized. No, indeed, the first boxes were unloaded without ceremony onto the nearest shelf until all were full, leaving several dozen which had to be piled into the attic where they yet remain. A few ordered clusters emerged (philosophy, for example, moved over nearly intact), but others (oy, the Judaica!) seemed to be equally distributed over the entire house.
This Saturday, I settled in for the pleasant task of finally sorting through some of the morass, which mostly meant making piles of books on every available horizontal surface (and several wobbly fabric surfaces). The picture at right shows the dining room table after the first of the shelves had been emptied. I played Maxwell’s demon, attempting to shuttle like volumes toward their kindred. But where does one file Thurber’s Fables for Our Time? Does Manzanar get placed with Holocaust, with the World War II books, or with twentieth-century American history? (I settled on the last of these for Manzanar, but the Thurber is still a puzzle.)
It will be a long time until the Kindle or its ilk replace the physical volume. Sure, it’s easier to keep dusted, but the experience of renaming a directory of e-book files is nothing like the tactile pleasure of handling a stack of real tomes.
Maybe its my limited budget, but I’ve never gone in much for collecting volumes of serious bibliophilic interest. A nice trade paperback can be extremely satisfying, and one doesn’t need to worry about maintaining it in humidity-controlled isolation…content trumps all.
Rooting around in one shelf, I made some gleeful rediscoveries: a copy of an Ionesco children’s book (Story Number One), chapbooks of Michael Swanwick short-shorts (Puck Aleshire’s Abecedary and Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna), my hardcover of the Annotated Snark, four volumes that had been originally filed together because of their Gorey cover illustrations. The real frisson, though, comes from the order itself, looking at the neatly-faced shelves and recalling every book and the reason it was placed with its fellows.
As midnight neared, I realized the task was not to be completed in a weekend. Laggard books were hustled back willy-nilly and surfaces cleared, but somehow, they had expanded. All the shelves are full, but many book-feet remain. The guest room is encrusted with piles and, somehow, a waist-high stack stands in front of the full case in M——‘s sewing room. Work begins again tomorrow, class on Tuesday, and my evenings will again be spent on my Ph.D. studies. In spare moments, though, I can refile a book here, a book there, perhaps bring a box down from the attic. The seed crystal of order has been planted, and the lattice of the library will form inevitably around it.