I’m going through the bookcase. Cases. It seems like we’ve got books crammed on every flat surface in the house. When Luke started crawling we moved everything but the board books off the first shelf and started squeezing them up higher. When he started standing, the second shelf moved up into whatever diagonal sideways backwards nooks and crannies were left. By the time he was walking, they were in haphazard flap-jack stacks piled from the top shelf to the ceiling, with all the salvaged dust jackets in a separate stack. (One of the many mysteries of kids: they all go through a phase where dust jackets are unforgivable.)
Now Luke is going on five. Books with paper pages are not only safe in his hands, but generally craved. So I’m defragging the system.
The process of categorizing books is a precarious one. Sure, Dr. Seuss goes on one shelf and Stephen King on another. But there are deeper philosophical questions. Does Jules Verne go with Charles Dickens or Isaac Asimov? Do Baum and Barry mingle with Shel Silverstein or do they belong with Twain and Stevenson?
A pile for history, a pile for science, a pile for non-fiction commentary on the world that I’m not quite comfortable calling either one thing or the other. Do Maya Angelou and Barbara Kingsolver hang with Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? What’s a classic? Is it like sainthood and postage stamps? Do you have to be dead first? For how long? It seems like such a system makes for a lot of book shelf relaunches. Surely it’s not practical.
I never separate science fiction and fantasy. Too many choices.
It seems like so much of what we do every day is decide on what shelf to file some thing/one/where away on. Then someone hands you a platypus and you have to decide which way it’s going to rock your reality.
The digital world is well-structured amorphism. We have tag clouds and taxonomy. Systems that bend and grow. Book shelves might sag in the middle over time, but functionally, you’re stuck with finite two-dimensionality. Poetry here. Prose there. Gibran’s “Prose Poems”? Thanks.
The cat lays by, neutral on the subject of science versus science fiction, but claiming what remains of the poetry shelf for herself, stretching out in the dusty sunshine.
The structure of any system comes down not to the data itself but how the data is accessed. Certain users are too tall to reach the top shelf. Certain books are too tall to fit anywhere else. And all users know their numbers and order of the letters of the alphabet.
Ballet books here, music there, and paper airplanes down there. Uncle Shelby’s A, B, Z’s on the top shelf behind a big stack where the kid will never find it. Barely contained chaos in neat little rows.
You know, like life.