By the book

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

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

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