ATG Quirkies: Why bother organizing your books? A messy personal library is proof of life.

by | Jun 23, 2021 | 0 comments

Why bother organizing your books? A messy personal library is proof of life appears in the Washington Post book section and is by Mark Athitakis a critic in Phoenix and author of “The New Midwest.”

I”t’s hard for me to remember now the exact moment when my ambition for order died. About three years ago, my family moved into a new house, and among its selling points (for me, if no one else) was an office with pre-installed shelving. Just after the movers departed, I tidily separated the fiction from the nonfiction, dutifully arranging the fiction alphabetically by author. Within a couple of days, Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” sat high on one shelf on one end of the room and Alejandro Zambra’s “Multiple Choice” sat low at the bottom of a shelf at the other end. Perfect.

And then, of course, soon enough, not.

I recently went hunting for my copy of Lydia Davis’s “Essays One,” a collection of nonfiction that revealed itself stuffed sideways on a shelf where the works of Philip Roth and Marilynne Robinson first took up residence. That would’ve been an unthinkable genre incursion when I’d first moved in, and the search itself revealed more shelving indignities. Locating Davis meant scanning through books that are no longer so much shelved as much as piled in a sedimentary manner throughout the office. Biographies are now cheek-to-jowl with memoirs and short story collections. Oversize graphic novels rest pell-mell on top of the neatly shelved, cooperatively size trade paperbacks. I am forever doomed to be perched on a shelving spectrum well away from Marie Kondo and distressingly close to the Collyer Brothers.

I could blame covid. But though the pandemic mostly kept me out of bookstores, it didn’t keep me from online ordering or occasional Goodwill runs — which means I have books that still haven’t been removed from their plastic wrappers and a copy of “Gödel, Escher, Bach” that is probably destined to haunt me, unread, for years. Assuming I could ever find it. Memes about books you own but will never read spoke to me like never before; well-manicured shelfies and Zoom rooms delivered occasional stings of shame…

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