When I lived with my parents, my library was confined to one room. My books were on shelves, but the shelves made corridors. (Imagine an organized book hoarder.) When I moved to my first apartment, I had shelves everywhere. I used to arrange my books by genre. I kept my classics, nonfiction, literary fiction, and mysteries/thrillers out in the living room and dining room. Science fiction, fantasy, and graphic novels were relegated to my bedroom. For the longest time, I made do with little three shelf bookcases from Walmart that were basically particle board with woodgrain stickers on the outside to make them visually acceptable. Over time, thanks to my librarian gig, I was able to slowly replace these with better, stronger bookcases.
Then, I moved into my lovely house. The house has three bedrooms, one more than I need, so I converted one of the bedrooms into my library. I painted the walls red and, with the help of family, hauled my bookcases and books into that upstairs room. (Thanks, brother! I probably still owe you a beer or two.) Instead of organizing books by genre, everything is arranged alphabetically by author. Nonfiction is next to graphic novels are next to historical fiction is next to my Terry Pratchett novels. I love the juxtaposition of strange shelf-mates. Now I only have bookshelves in two rooms of my house: the library and my kitchen. (I keep my cookbook and a bird book in the kitchen.)
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my book collection over the past year, mostly due to the ongoing print vs. digital debate and to Simon Savidge’s “Other People’s Bookshelves” series. Every now and then, I miss my corridors of bookshelves. I have a different relationship with books now. I rarely fetishize the object; for me it’s always about the content. I carry around a significant portion of my library around on my iPad these days. Partly because of moving, I’ve gotten a lot stricter about what I buy in print. Hauling around several hundred books (up and down stairs, both ways, in canvas shoes) every few years does a lot to kill the urge to accumulate.
Still, when I feel nostalgic, I wander the stacks at my library or go to the local used bookstore and wander around their narrow aisles of genre-organized books. I miss being surrounded by words. My little library sometimes gives me the feeling that I’ve exiled my books.