Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ode to My Library: Guest Post

It's been a long day's night of a summer, working on a couple of projects which I'll tell you about in my next post, but today Kate Racculia is here! Kate is a wonderful writer whose new book, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, will be out next month. I can't wait! In the meantime read on to find out about her relationship with her books. Impossible not to relate! You've got me thinking about my shelves and their crazy "organization"....

Here's Kate...

Ah, books and their shelves...

My books and I, we have a problem.
When I say “my books” I mean, of course, the many, many volumes—primarily of fiction, but a smattering of poetry, plays, and nonfiction—I have amassed over my lifetime. The books of my childhood: The Westing Game, The NeverEnding Story, anthologies of Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. The books of my teen years—a copy of Jurassic Park with SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE emblazed on a red starburst—and of college (Flannery O’Connor, Shakespeare), graduate school (Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, A Room of One’s Own), and beyond, up through the past decade of my life as a professional novelist. The problem my books and I have now isn’t so much that I have too many of them (I do), or even that I have a problem getting rid of them (I don’t, when I bother to weed), but that I possess enough now to comprehend the flaws in my initial organizational system.
This system, if you want to call it that, is a mishmash of circumstance and affection, maintained by a mix of habit and laziness. Eternal favorites go here. Current reads are here, and travel back and forth between living room and bedroom. Books I was reading when I moved are shelved here, vintage mass market paperbacks are stacked there. Books I’ve borrowed and intend to return but admittedly probably never will are stashed there. Books that I can feel exerting that special kind of gravity, that I’ll end up writing about someday, even if I’m the only person who will ever be able to trace their influence—are stacked, precariously, there. I am both a re-reader and a used bookstore magpie, and go to my own shelves to revisit gems or discover un-read treasures. The result is that my apartment, which is quite big enough for one person and two cats, is full of not only overstuffed bookcases but random stalagmites of books (from my vantage on the couch, I count five) that I admit are trending less “cozy” and more “cluttered.”
But now comes the problem: if I am, as Marie Kondo suggests, to pile all my books into one room, sort through and only keep the ones that give me joy—where and how on earth am I going to put the joy-givers back, and ever hope to find them again? I’ve Kondo-tidied other parts of my life, my kitchen, my closet, so I know the delight and freedom that comes from only surrounding yourself with objects intentionally chosen. And humans better equipped than I have already come up with plenty of useful organizational schema: Melville Dewey gets points for complexity. The alphabet—a classic. I half attempted, several years ago, to make a bookshelf of favorite authors, snuggling my Barbara Pyms up to my Stephen Kings, and plan to return to it (probably around the same time that I read and return those borrowed books). Bookshelves organized by spine color give me hives, though of course this is essentially how my books are organized too: by a design entirely of my own making, based on my recall both of the book’s physicality and when it came into my life. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a gift, is a TV movie tie-in with Jane Seymour on the cover—it’s in the mass market stack. Beloved was a used book sale score, missing its cover: a rough linen spine on the eternal favorites overflow shelf. In order to organize my library in such a way that any human other than me can find anything in it, I need to surrender the very particular ties I have to each of my books as objects. I need to depersonalize it, in other words. Which is probably why the idea feels so uncomfortable, and why I’ll get around to re-organizing as soon as I return those books I’ve borrowed: they’re already organized just so, as the library of my life.
Kate Racculia is a novelist living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is the author of the novels This Must Be the Place and Bellweather Rhapsody, winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award. Her third novel, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. She teaches online for Grub Street, works at her local public library, and sings in the oldest Bach choir in America.          

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