Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Collector's Dilemma

I love my books, it sometimes it even feels likes they love me back. We’ve been together some of us for many, many, years, and god willing we will be together for many more. Tastes and times change, so some have come and gone, but currently I share a small flat with about 1300 volumes, all of whom I’m in a committed relationship with. Like any relationship this calls for compromise, and brings its fair share of dilemmas. When I moved in (about 500 books ago) I bought plenty of shelves, or so I thought. For a while it was fine. I got a lot of books back out of storage and whilst reacquainting myself with them I managed to keep my buying habit under control, until the pressure of paying a mortgage converted me to the delights of second hand books and Amazon marketplace that is.
Now there are books everywhere, under things, on top of things, stacked in corners and under windows, forming bedside furniture, and possibly fire hazards. I am currently trying (again) to arrange them into some sort of order and this is my dilemma. I seem to have acquired a sort of spider’s web of printed material.
I once had a grand scheme for a chronological arrangement, but space and an increasingly complicated interconnection of subject matter intervened. Clearly it makes sense to keep authors together, but that means mixing genres and I’m sure I don’t want to do that, and then there are publishers. Collections within a collection, surely Persephone publications crave the company of their sisters, and the Virago’s – clearly a tribe apart, but then what of authors whose work is spread across a range of imprints? The classics, either penguin or oxford are more clubbable gentlemen and happy to muddle along together, they’re not even averse to rubbing shoulders with the ladies, but those bright young things the modern classics are another thing altogether. Does one differentiate between silver, green, and now the new white ones even? So many questions.
I did once wonder if it would make sense to arrange alphabetically for half a moment, but I read according to mood so I can’t say that struck me as a particularly intuitive or pleasing solution overall, although some sub groups are arranged alphabetically - they seem to like it that way. So far no solution has been reached, I haven’t even managed to get all the fiction into one room, and now the cookbooks have become so unruly that they are demanding some sort of discipline be imposed upon them. I sort of hope that one day I will find the ideal solution, but in the meantime I guess I’ll just carry on acquiring more books, comforting myself with the knowledge that my problem is as nothing compared to that of a dear friend who has the most awe inspiring collection of dictionaries I have ever seen, several hundred on every subject, in every size, they live feral, a whole room to themselves having defeated every attempt made to impose control.


  1. welcome to my world! If you put a tablecloth over a stack of books, it becomes an end table.

  2. Just leave them where they fall. You clearly have no hope of agreeing with yourself on any system!

    Whenever I moan, people pipe up and suggest colour co-ordinating books. To that I say the problem is when the spines fade.