Sunday, December 12, 2010

Books: Form or Function?

Just as I'm getting used to the idea that December is here, the January issue of Family Circle showed up in my mailbox. (Yes, I know, it's hardly the New Yorker, but can you say "middle school magazine drive"? and the cookie recipes are great….) Between the January hiatus and now lie a myriad of projects: grading, new kitchen cabinets, one more column to write (Christmas). I should have tucked it away for a cold grey afternoon break with a cup of tea.

Alas, I'm a sucker for anything that promises to help me tame the chaos in my house. And right there on the cover, hovering over the cinnamon buns in a cast iron pan is the line: NO MORE CLUTTER.

"Shelves crammed end to end with books usually look cluttered." I'm excited, maybe they will have some advice for the aspiring-to-well-ordered academic household. We have bookshelves, plural, in the dining room. And every other room in the house (ok, except the bathrooms -- too steamy!). And they are all crammed end to end with books. Personally, I've never counted books on actual shelves (as opposed to on desks, floors and chairs) as clutter, but I'm willing to learn!

I eagerly turn the page to find this suggestion: "Group books by color or size so that they work well together visually." Somehow I suspect this person and I don't quite have the same idea about the function of books in a household. On second thought, reorganizing my shelves upstairs (Psalms has just outgrown it's original spot and had to get pushy to find a shelf to occupy) I discovered that it might not be such a bad idea. My desert fathers tomes are all appropriately desert toned, and my Rahner collection tends to shades of blue and white….maybe it could work.

What do I really need? Even more than a full time housekeeper and cook or house elf? A house librarian.

Photo is of the books I took with me - and artfully arranged, with flowers! - in the hotel on my last trip to Southern University to talk about contemplative practices.


  1. Yes, I suspect you're right about the author of the piece having a different view of the function of books. For some reason, I've always found the sight of a cluttered bookshelf quite inviting - all of my bookshelves are packed to the gills, and when I visit people and see that their bookshelves are like mine, it tends to leave a very positive impression ("Ah! They love books as much as I do!").

    I suppose one key question to ask is whether books may be found when they are needed. I've been lucky in that I usually know exactly where to find a particular book when I need it, even if I couldn't tell someone else how to find it on the shelves or in the more-or-less neat piles in my room.

  2. I'm still in the middle of my book organizing project (stack of books all over the library floor - and really everywhere else as well). Personally, I always start with collections and multiples within thematic groupings but at some point it all goes to that hot and nasty place and I end up jamming books wherever they fit.

  3. Group books by size or COLOR???


    Actually, I do have some grouped by size/topic, because I have a very narrow little Pier One bookcase in my "desk" room and many of the smaller sized books about prayer and spiritual direction fit nicely thee.

    But nothing around here stays grouped for very long.

  4. sounds like a job for a certain unemployed librarian, mosaic artist, and lovely wife I happen to know!

  5. Joe, I love full shelves to browse - my own or a libraries!

    And to both Joe and Robin, I suspect for those of us who read the books, it's about finding them again when we want them. Somewhere I read that a person can keep the locations of 10,000 volume personal library in his/her head.

    I often can tell someone just where to find something, when I was in Singapore, I managed to describe a book and it's location clearly enough for my oldest to find it so he could look up a quote I needed to finish a column!

    And Wayne, why didn't I think of that!! Maybe Margaret can start a consulting business for home libraries - help with deaccession and organization for those of us with packed shelves that can't resist buying still more books!

    And Sabrina, I know that place well in all sorts of projects!!