We talk about books every week in this space, but most of time it's about the words inside them. This week, we have to discuss them as objects, more precisely as objects that should be stored in specific — very specific — ways.
Some designers are apparently recommending shelving books with the spines hidden, so all that can be seen are the pages. This is supposed to create a "monochromatic" background against which accent pieces can be incorporated.
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But then no one could ever find the book they're looking for! Madness! Books are utilitarian, not decorative, right?
Do I sound just a bit tetchy on this? If so, it's because Mrs. Biblioracle and I recently had a bit of a tiff over the manner in which my books would be shelved and arranged in the built-in bookcases in our living room.
When we first moved in, with great care and consideration, I unpacked the boxes of my finest hardcovers and arranged them according to my patented Warner Decimal System. There was one shelf for books written by friends and colleagues. It was prominent, eye height so that when we have guests, they can see that I know successful writers.
On one of the top shelves was what I like to call my "humble tribute to self" where I had arranged the books I have published. I put it out of immediate eyesight and easy reach so as to indicate a certain lesser importance, lest our guests think I'm some sort of raging ego monster. However, I made sure to have at least six copies of each of my books, an arrangement that draws notice at some point, after which I say something like, "Those things? Those are mine."
Other shelves were dedicated to hardcover fiction, carefully curated down to my favorites and arranged by thematic groupings — campus novels, relationships, post-apocalyptic, suspense, comic, short story collections and, of course, "uncategorizable." The idea was that if the eye is drawn to one title, it will quickly move to the surrounding ones and find items of interest.
Another shelf was nonfiction of the narrative variety. Another was nonfiction/biography. Another: nonfiction/biography/sports. Another: nonfiction/essays/humorous. Another: nonfiction/essays/literature.
There were others, and believe me when I say the arrangements made perfect sense.
To me, which is what's important.
I could tell that Mrs. Biblioracle was not pleased with the aesthetics of my system from the get-go. Books of different sizes and shapes and colors were housed next to each other. Where I saw a perfect map of my reading pleasures, she saw the crazy-quilt of a madman.
I arrived home one day to find that my fine work had been undone. I saw shelves where books of similar size were nestled together, further arranged by gradations of color, darks giving way to lights. Fiction was still with fiction, nonfiction with nonfiction. No one — no one but me — would have seen anything funky about the groupings.
Also, it really looked great.
This didn't stop me from sputtering some half-explanations of why they should be put back the way they were. Mrs. Biblioracle was patient with me, letting me work through my issues. Over time, I've gotten used to the idea that the books are both utilitarian and decorative. As long as the spines are out, I can live with it.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "Miles From Nowhere" by Nami Mun
2. "Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury" edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
3. "Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée" by Thomas J. Craughwell
4. "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery
5. "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes
— Jane C., Crete
Most of Jane's list is closely observed character-centric fiction, but I have a feeling that she's going to enjoy some narrative history from one of its best current practitioners, Tony Horwitz: "Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War."
1. "Great House" by Nicole Krauss
2. "The Age of Miracles" by Karen Thompson Walker
3. "The Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt
4. "Cascade" by Maryanne O'Hara
5. "Speaking from Among the Bones" by Alan Bradley
— Yvonne O'C., Chicago
For Yvonne, I'm recommending a Booker Prize-winning novel from several years ago — a great feat of first-person narration and an important culture study: "The White Tiger," by Aravind Adiga.
1. "Geek Love" by Katherine Dunn
2. "How the French Invented Love" by Marilyn Yalom
3. "Hallowed Ground" by James McPherson
4. "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel
5. "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter
— Craig B., Chicago
I was thinking more narrative nonfiction about the Civil War, but that takes me to another Tony Horwitz book, "Confederates in the Attic," and I've never recommended two books by the same author in the same week. So instead, I'm going with the sly and surprisingly moving sort of Western, "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick deWitt.
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