I'm finally mostly unpacked, one of the last tasks being the organization of my library. I actually have fewer books to unpack this time than when I moved five years ago, since hundreds of books now reside in my on-campus office. However, without all my Early Modern books and my teaching books and my theory books (and with many more rooms in my home!), the task of ordering and bestowing the remainder is even more of a puzzle.
We don't have a room that can serve as a dedicated library, and I've taken a smallish room--the beautiful, sun-filled sleeping porch--as my office. My books might all fit in there, if I crammed bookcases against every available wall, but that doesn't seem to make sense; aside from the size of the room, there's no point in having Don DeLillo and August Wilson, much less Helen Fielding, hanging out in my workspace. In theory I could keep leisure reading in one place and scholarly reading in another, but that division isn't absolute. Is the Odyssey research, or leisure? How about Jonathan Swift? Or the Romantic poets (whom I hate, will not read for fun, will never need for my research, but need to keep as part of my library)? And what the hell do I do with my collection of books on jazz and Old Hollywood? Or my two dozen books on contemporary religion?
Since I'm by nature an organizer and a systematizer, I'm haunted by the belief that there's some perfect way to organize my books: easy and rational but also intellectually coherent. I know that this isn't so--and that whatever I do with my books, within a few months I'll be accustomed to where everything is and the underlying organization won't matter--but I still want to do things right.
So I sit on the floor, surrounded by books, interrogating them: what are you? How do you matter to me?
The organizational method that I continue to find the most satisfying is chronological. So with the exception of a few special or set-aside collections, everything else gets mixed together: literature and history, philosophy and social science, starting with the writings of the ancient world and continuing up through last year's best-sellers. The idea is that my bookshelves will chart patterns of intellectual and aesthetic development, influence and response--and for the most part they do. Still, chronology doesn't solve all my problems. Should Gibbon go next to Catullus, or next to Johnson? Does an author with a long career get all his books shelved next to each other, or should they be interleaved with those of his earlier and later contemporaries? Should national groupings be respected? (It might be reasonable to interleave works of Early American literature with those from 18th C. Britain, but what about continental Europe? Should Choderlos de Laclos and the Marquis de Sade really be next to Charles Brockden Brown?)
It's a pleasurable task, though, for exactly these reasons. I enjoy finding six totally dissimilar novels published within a year or two of each other, and thinking about the different issues and movements they're in conversation with. I like seeing which patterns emerge, and what different patterns I can create if I shuffle authors into a slightly different order, or place them in the context of an epochal event like WWII.
But then, that's how my brain works; I may have a rage for order, but I'm more a lumper than a splitter.
How do the rest of you solve your book organization problems?