By the book
a system. Having inherited shelves that were subdivided, we allocated a section to each letter so that authors could be arranged alphabetically. However, this meant that, if a new C came into the house, it wouldn’t fit in the overcrowded C section unless you moved everything from D to K (where there tended to be some slack) forwards. In any case, a lumpy area grew at the end of the shelves with authors waiting to go into the right slot, which they never did. There is, therefore, room for improvement.
One friend arranges her books by colour, their spines producing a charming effect as they move from red to orange to yellow to green. As one tends to know exactly what a book looks like— you know you’re looking for a blue spine, for example—it’s a surprisingly efficient system, but it wouldn’t work for Zam, who’s colour blind.
Another couple has his books in one room and her books in another. I don’t think they should be judged on this, but it happens that she pretty much only reads books by women and he only reads books by men. He sorts by genre—poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction—and she has hers in alphabetical order by title.
Another friend puts her favourite books at eye level, spreading out until the least favoured are sitting in the corner where they can’t annoy her. Another says she has no system, but buys the book again if she can’t find it. ‘Embarrassing, but true,’ she says of this profligate approach, but, as she used to work in a bookshop, she thinks any money spent on books is money well spent. In all other ways, I’d describe her as thrifty.
My most organised friend has English (including American) fiction divided into authors dead and alive, which means she has to rejig on a regular basis. Then follows German, French, Spanish and Russian works. All nonfiction is lumped together ‘with a pile of naval-themed stuff outside the bedroom’ (to this, she adds that Patrick O’brian is like football and Bob Dylan and any woman who claims she likes them is trying to prove something).
‘I’m going to return this,’ I say, picking up a book I was lent by a friend who urged me to ‘give it back soon because I’m always lending books to people who then die and it becomes very awkward to get them back’.
‘And I’m starting a charity book bag,’ I add, holding up the ‘Magic’ paperback. ‘I hate this book and we’ve had it for 10 years.’ ‘Oh my god, I loved those,’ enthuses a daughter who’s just appeared. ‘And I love these screwdrivers,’ says Zam as he flicks on the lamp triumphantly.
Non-plussed, I close the box of books again. We don’t have any bookshelves now anyway. There’s plenty of time to devise a system.
Patrick O’brian is like football and Bob Dylan