Tuesday, January 13, 2009


It looks worse than it really is. I can find anything!

Having books instantly available has always meant stacks for me. And since the stacks were getting out of control (I was tripping on them) I had to group them by category. Thus, we have:

  • Books describing (and showing) ship design through the ages. (Books on operating these ships stay on the shelves; I cannot explain this except that I don't need them yet.)
  • Books about storytelling: theory and practice, examples, etc.
  • Books I have grouped together, doing a sad injustice to both categories but unavoidable because I get a similar thing from each, a glimpse of the darkness of human nature: Holocaust memoirs, child soldier biographies, fiction and non-fiction.
  • Mountain climbing books (some of which have migrated downstairs for my reading-by-the-fire time on weekends).
  • A strange category of "literature/philosophy," with The Poetic Edda, Sagas of Icelanders, The Golden Bough, Paradise Lost, Saint-Exupery's Flight to Arras, and more. These are books where I've identified stories or scenes or even snatches of phrases that strike me and hang in my mind like the ringing of a bell. They are beautiful, terrible, poignant, and touching.
  • A similar category of books that contained interesting phrases and ideas, but which somehow didn't seem to fit with the literature/philosophy. For example, a photo-essay of a sailing trip around the Delmarva coast in 1974 notes an incident when birds inexplicably attacked the Cape Charles lighthouse on two consecutive nights, shattering the lens and exhausting the lighthouse-keepers. The birds never returned.
  • A happily large stack of books which, once read, will be sorted into one of the other categories but whose principle role now is "books I have not yet read."
  • Not books but a stack of printed news articles, pages torn from magazines, etc. For some reason, regardless of topic, these are grouped together by virtue of their format: letter-sized pages.
  • A cardboard box of library books left over from a vacation several months ago (I get a 6-month loan at the university library). They were threatening to spill across the back seat until I got wise and put them in the box. I rotate them in and out as I read them, and it helps me keep track of what I need to return.
Most of these, except some of the library books, are research for my work-in-progress. I flip through them when I need ideas, to check facts, or simply to get inspired and remember what it's like to pace the slanting deck of a man-of-war, or to fall into dry snow, gasping from altitude sickness, or to feel the gravity-swinging sense of betrayal at the thought that sometimes the world is bad and nobody notices.

As for the bookshelves themselves? That's where I keep the not-used-every-day books. Messy but honest and workable. What I'd do with a cavernous and open workspace, I have no idea.

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