Monday, April 06, 2009

unabashed rambling

organizing books is one of my Favorite Things In The Whole Wide World.

Back when I was in high school, it was my primary sane-making pastime. . . there was something incredibly calming about bringing order to something, particularly since it was such a tangible something and it managed to carry such a potent subtext of Future. I wanted to learn almost everything, and the books I owned were my tool kit, their untapped wisdom the best shot I had at getting to who I thought I wanted to be. When I was upset, I would make myself a challenge--get rid of ten books, or in extreme cases fifty. . . and since I had a source of free books, this lead to a constant refining and re-organization process rather than true personal-library anorexia. :)

Organizing books can be a bit like organizing your brain. When I left the home of my teen-angst, I would often satisfy this craving to externalize my thoughts by way of the library. Thirty interior design books spread about you on the floor are like a specialized meditation garden on the subject at hand. . . I've often been known to wander for an extra forty minutes or an hour looking for exactly the right combination of items to express my mental state, then take them home and wallow in the creative fecundity of my acquisitions, reading a chapter here and another there in attempts to pick up exactly the information I was seeking.

These days I'm a little less spontaneous with my reading and a lot more serious about my study habits, but I've discovered that my "books to read" document has come to serve a deliciously similar function, except even better--The Future is now. It's like the Wheaties of book organizing; book organizing for now and the long haul. Here are the books I plan to read in Philosophy--in Science--in French--entire lists of books imported from friends on interesting subject matter, a list of topics to research (and find the best books to read on them), everything I'm currently reading highlighted in bold. . . and, of course, the singularly satisfying act of deleting items from the list, productive if I've read them and cathartic if I've decided they no longer need apply.

It might possibly be the case that the list is shrinking slower than it is growing. It does include such list items as: "items in my library which don't belong to me," "the rest of the major Russians," and "other items in my library which do belong to me." For the moment though, it is finite, motivating, exciting, extremely reflective of my goals and progress towards them, and, as perhaps I've said, deeply, deeply satisfying.

As soon as I've done writing this, I'll be off to return to my roots--organizing my physical, material personal library for the first time in almost a year, with space to keep my books where I can see them, and all in one place. I finally have the bookshelves, and I've been looking forward to it for days.

Organizing my books right now has two kinds of additional significance, above what it had when I was a teen. For one thing, as I have scarcely begun to believe, it seems that I have a home. While I don't see myself loosing my taste as a minimalist and I think I'll always be aware that it costs money to maintain Things (including a personal library of any size), I no longer need constantly to imagine how many camels it would take to carry all this, or how exactly I would pack the entirety into my Geo, or what I would leave behind and expect never to see again when I depart for Europe. I'm perhaps a bit too scarred to become attached to Things--which is not all bad--but it will certainly be a different thing to approach the project from the perspective of having a single, stationary, almost permanently allocated home.

The other difference is that as I've become more serious in reading, I care to depend on other people's libraries less and less. If I've put significant time and effort into reading this, I want to own a copy--I want to keep notes about it, maybe even (God forbid) underline sections in pencil--I want to be able to reference it and find the right parts when I need to, because someday soon I'll be using this to do my work. Personal library has become not just a projection of future destinations, collection of past favorites, and source of occasional reading material, but something far more vivacious, almost constantly interactive.

Exciting. Tasty. Very filling.

As I said, Satisfying.

So thank you, Mary, for sharing your library organizing experience. Sometimes when your favorite things are--we'll say quirky--its nice to know how other people enjoy them to. . . and as it turns out, writing (and sometimes reading) about sorting books can be almost as fun as sorting them. :)