On the shelf
“Orgies, we want orgies!” That’s a line from Asterix and the Cauldron, when Asterix and Obelix, desperate to raise money, sign up with an avant garde theatre group that wears green makeup and is determined to shock its audience.
I love this line. It never fails to crack me up. And this week, I’ve been repeating it over and over. Because though I don’t wear green makeup (in fact, I don’t wear makeup at all) and I have no desire to shock anyone, I’ve been having orgies. Orgies that involve quantities of books, quantities of dust and, unfortunately, NO quantities of bookshelves.
I’ve been rearranging my bookshelves to accommodate new purchases and brought-back-from-Cacutta books and that crystal vase, a gift from my sister, has got to GO. Likewise the other crystal vase that I haven’t a clue who gave me or why (do I come across as a crystal vase person?), the crystal ashtray, and the assorted crystal glasses that I’ve never used in all my life, only carefully carried about hither and yon – for WHAT? – have all gotta GO. That will free up one section of a cabinet that my carpenter can very easily add a couple of shelves to and, ta dah! I’ll have more book space. (No, I’m not giving away any books, so don’t bother to suggest it.)
Meanwhile, as I said, I’ve been having orgies. All the books are off their shelves and on the floor, the maid has been instructed to sweep around them, and every evening I return home and wonder – how on earth should I arrange them?
Till now, they’ve been squeezed on the shelves in a haphazard manner, one Wodehouse here, another on the topmost shelf, six or seven entirely elsewhere. One Alan Coren here, another in another bookcase altogether. Three volumes of The Complete Peanuts packed in with other comic books, two in a completely different place. You get the picture.
I like it haphazard because when you scan the shelves, you haven’t the faintest idea what you could come across next, and that’s great fun. But my inner librarian sometimes protests. It would be nice, my inner librarian suggests from time to time, if perhaps there was some order to the way I keep my books. Mostly I ignore my inner librarian for the reason described above (as well as extreme laziness). But now it’s making too much of a fuss to disregard.
So I’ve been thinking. How shall I organise my books? Despite my inner librarian, I refuse to do it alphabetically (my inner librarian often has to compete with my inner bohemian). So shall I arrange them by author? But then what happens to the lone books, the ones that are the sole representatives of their authors? It’s very sad to see a lone book squashed between large, thug-like gangs of books. It could severely disturb the lone book’s personality. Not nice.
So, by genre? But sometimes it’s very difficult to classify books into categories. One of my favourites, 84 Charing Cross Road, a story about a love affair between an American woman and a secondhand bookshop which is told in letters, could be clubbed with other books about books, such as Anne Fadiman’s essays, Ex Libris, which I also love. But it could just as easily be clubbed with Daddy-Long-Legs , which is also a book in letters, but is what would be called today a Young Adults romance. And Daddy-Long-Legs could be clubbed with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is also a story told in letters and also a romance (or rather, a feel-good book), but this is for grown-ups and it’s set just after the second world war, so perhaps it should be clubbed with Berlin, by Pierre Frei, a crime story set just after the second world war. And should that be clubbed with The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor, which is a history book, or should it go with the Andrea Camilleri and Donna Leon crime books, set in the Italy of today, and should those go with A Season with Verona, a fan’s point of view and part travel book on an Italian football team?
See? Too many problems with genres.
How about size, then? It seems a little cold-hearted, and very close to my inner librarian’s alphabetical idea, but if I ruthlessly put together all the massive books, and grouped all the medium-sized books, and clubbed all the pocket books together, I’d get a lot more book space, cos I could pile more books on top of them, neatly. And book space is what I need.
But then authors would be separated, genres would be all over the place, and there’d be no organisation with a capital O that my inner librarian is so keen on. Plus, my bookshelves would look very boring, all neat rows like that, and that would make my inner bohemian sad.
So I think I’ll just return to haphazard.
But it’s so much fun playing with my books.
PS: If you’re a fan of Brunch, go RIGHT NOW to http://www.facebook.com/#!/hindustantimesbrunch. Yup, we finally made it on Facebook.