Unfortunately, the poor baby has been very sick with a terrible cold since Thursday. Her nose has been streaming, her eyes are watering, she’s had a temperature and developed a terrible cough. So we have had a very quiet long weekend, looking after the poor girl.
This afternoon, while she was asleep, I decided that I would rearrange the bookshelf in the spare room. I should confess that I have a passion for arranging bookshelves. When I was in primary school, I arranged my books according to the Dewey Decimal System, and made my own spine labels for them. Sad, but oh so true. If only the rest of my life had some order to it.
My rearranging reminded me of this account of marrying libraries in Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman:
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. We had known each other for ten years, lived together for six, been married for five. Our mismatched coffee mugs cohabited amicably; we wore each other’s T-shirts and, in a pinch, socks; our record collections had long ago miscegenated without incident, my Josquin Desprez motets cozying up to George’s Worst of Jefferson Airplane, to the enrichment, we believed, of both. But our libraries had remained separate, mine mostly at the north end of our loft, his at the south. We agreed that it made no sense for my Billy Budd to languish forty feet from his Moby Dick, yet neither of us had lifted a finger to bring them together.
We had been married in this loft, in full view of our mutually quarantined Melvilles. Promising to love each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health — even promising to forsake all others — had been no problem, but it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn’t say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates. That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt.
I did laugh when I read this. My husband and I didn’t marry our book collections until we’d been married for some years. In fact, I think it only happened just before I had our girl. I had the nesting instinct very badly, and rearranged the spare room and the bookshelves at least four times in those months before the girl was born. By contrast, I think our CD collection got mixed up right from the beginning, and is happily blended in our lounge room to this day.
My husband likes novels of gritty realism: Irving Welsh and the like. He also has a great many books on how to listen to music. He has a taste for the controversial. I like Middle English poetry, we both have Shakespeare, then there’s all those Thomas Hardy novels from my Hardy phase in late adolescence. How to arrange the books? Should The Prisoner of Zenda go before or after Dickens? Should poetry go together? Rather strangely, the main areas in which my husband’s and my collections overlap is Shakespeare and Kafka. What does that say about us? I haven’t culled any from either collection. We have mostly married our books, but those gritty realism ones are off on a shelf of their own next to my husband’s desk. In terms of later literature, I have decided that books with a similar “feel” should go together – books about travel, books about Japan, books with a post-modernist flavour. That way, if I’m feeling in the mood for a book by an Australian author, I’ll be able to go to that section and select one.
It is a nice feeling sorting through one’s books. Each has its own individual flavour. Sometimes I think I am a devourer of books. As I sorted them, I remember which ones I enjoyed and found a few that I’ve always intended to read. I also think I should have another go at some books which I never finished. And my husband has a few interesting ones which I never would have purchased myself but which I think I would enjoy reading.
Do you think it’s just totally over the top if I put labels on the shelf indicating themes for anyone who happens to be browsing? Hmm, maybe don’t answer that question.