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Living Up to My Word: On Book Organization

Jodi Chromey

Staff Writer

Jodi Chromey is a freakishly tall writer who edits MN Reads and has been blogging at I Will Dare since 2000. Follow her on Twitter: @jodiwilldare

In one of my first Book Riot posts, I wrote about how Frank Portman taught me not to hoard books. Book lovers everywhere were aghast. The thought of not keeping every book that ever enters your house was mind-blowing to some people. Oh how I love them.

Being a person who says they don’t hoard books and being a person who doesn’t actually hoard books are two different things. At least, that’s what I discovered this weekend when I set to organizing the fiction portion of my collection.

Organizing and shelving my books is a task I am loath to do. It’s dusty and messy and generally not a lot of fun. However, as I type this, I’m waiting for a photographer from one of the local newspapers to come over and take my picture to accompany an article about people who choose to read paper books as opposed to ebooks. I don’t know if the bookcase will make it into the picture, but I have nightmares about the demons who choose to make comments on mainstream media newspaper sites writing vitriolic screeds about the tiny, dusty flagella waving from the tops of my books.

Also, this makes me wonder what the Venn diagram would look like that explored the overlap between compulsively clean people and book collectors. I bet that sliver would be invisible to the human eye.

Whenever I set out to clean the downstairs bookcase, I ponder my organizational scheme. For a long time my books were arranged by a sort of meritocracy I made up as I was shelving. This found authors that I loved at the top of the shelves with those I loved a little less at the bottom. It was a mess. Fiction and nonfiction sitting next to each other, books I didn’t like sitting up higher than books I loved purely because the author rated so high. It caused a lot of angst for this nerd.

Eventually, I stopped the madness and went with the regular old alphabetical-by-author (and chronological within the author, which spurred an argument with my 14-year-old niece/assistant, who tried to make a case for alphabetical by title within author. Oh, the capriciousness of youth!). Once the alphabetical system was in place, I banished nonfiction, anthologies, and reference to a different spot in the house (they live upstairs in my loft office called The Fortress of Solitude).

Now, back to the hoarding. I keep a majority of my fiction and graphic novels on a 6-foot-by-6-foot IKEA Expedit. The first, and most controversial shelf, is dedicated to not-yet-read books. Now my goal is to keep my not-yet-read pile to this one, single shelf. Right now there are 85 books on this shelf. Plus, six books jammed on top of the nicely-lined up books. This means I should have, technically, taken six books out. There are also seven books on the coffee table in various stages of read-edness or soon-to-be-read-edness.

I’m a fraud!

Okay, I’m only sort of a fraud. Before I even began, I hauled 80ish books to Goodwill. These were books (half of which were self-published) that had languished in the To Go Box for more than a year. And, I am happy to report, the new To Go Box is filled to overflowing. I’d guess there are 30 or 40 books in there.

Are you wondering how those books made it into the box? I made up a new rule to go with the Frank Portman Rule of only keeping books you adore. The new rule is called the Forgot It. As we dug out and dusted, I pondered each book. If I could not recall off the top of my head what it was about, it went into the box. After all, how can you claim to love something you can’t even remember? That’s not love, that’s something else I don’t even know a word for. See, before this weekend I only let go of books I actively disliked (however, I still can’t seem to part with Kerouac’s On the Road even though I think it’s overrated crap). Now, I’m learning to let go of the so-so and the long forgotten. They call that growth, don’t they?