October 22, 2009

"Step into my parlor..."

There are little bits of styrofoam strewn throughout the apartment, packaging that came with the new shelves in my office. So much for the minimalist aesthetic; though I liked the oasis of cream wall above the chair rail, I had four stacks of books that had been living on the floor for far too long. The artwork is still off being framed, but here's the latest incarnation:

Yes, those are my poetry books. Yes, they are color-sorted. (There's a section for brown and flesh-toned books at the entrance to the room, and collected essays on craft and translation hidden by the couch.) The last time I wrote about this I used a stock shot, so I thought I'd show the reality. Should you attempt this, accept that there's not going to be any kind of perfect approximation of the color spectrum; you have to be playful in the way you interpret a binding's "shade."

But sometimes really lovely juxtapositions result. Kyle Dargan, meet Kim Addonizio. Mark Doty, meet Sharon Olds.

This is why I like sorting poetry books by color; instead of their familiar alphabetical neighborhoods, authors land in the exotic countries of ROYGBIV. I can only remember twice when this system slowed down finding a book. Plus, the rested eye is better able to enjoy non-book items on the shelf.

Some colors are easier to work with than others. Whites are easy; blues, not so much. There are such jarring differences in what's considered blue that I have to stage them as three palettes.

I also took the risk (we'll see if it lasts) of stacking a small cluster of books on the horizontal.

I'm not sure about this. I worry it discourages picking these books up for browsing. (I cringe when I see professionally designed rooms that reduce big art books to obelisks...admitting, essentially, that no one is EVER going to read the ones on the bottom.) On the other hand, how can I resist Rita Dove and Claribel Alegria? These are books that won't take such neglect lying down. So to speak.

Now if you want to see real heresy, check this out:

Yep. Bindings in. That's what happens to the books I won't re-read anytime soon, but can't let go of for sentimental or monetary reasons.

And with that, we return to our regularly scheduled (and un-photographed) programming.


Matthew said...

great post, and very cool organizing. I might have to try this. Your poetry collection is also making me a bit green.

Matthew Thorburn said...

Sandra, this seems kind of crazy and makes some sense all at once. And I second that -- looks like you've got a seriously big poetry collection going there.

Do you color code the fiction too?

Sandra said...

* laughing * No, I don't color sort fiction or nonfiction--frankly, I don't have enough titles to keep it interesting. (Especially since I keep my "food" books on display in the dining room...thematically appropriate, even if it is just to compensate for an overflow of books.) Also, I think poetry books work better for this--thinner bindings = more texture and play.

Years of working in the world of book contests and magazines means I have more books than usual because of review and comp copies. I admit, it's an addiction. And once a poetry books is inscribed to me personally (as an astonishing number of these are), I can't ever let it go.

Eston said...

Throw in a couch, and you can be this fella

http://thewordguy.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/intermission-how-to-organize-your-books/ (scroll to bottom*)

(*FYI, that's also a good pick-up line)

giulia said...

Love this post, Sandra. The photographs are good & yes, blues are hard to categorize but you did excellent palette-sort. I must put some art books on their side...there are so many. However, I make sure to rotate them so they will be looked at by people other than self. I love the idea of such different writers meeting up this way.

verification 'livre' -no way, yep.

Lyle Daggett said...

I've never color-sorted my books, though there was an occasion when I bought a couple of used books, and had a third one with me already -- I went to a nearby coffeehouse to sit and read for a little bit, and got into a conversation with a guy there.

I showed him what I was reading, the three books: Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness, his account of life in Beirut during the 1983 seige; Hayden Carruth, a book of essays; and a book by somebody (can't remember the author) about poetry and blues lyrics. All three book covers were blue, and shades of blue that were pretty close together.

Darwish, Carruth, and blues.

Occurs to me you could set aside a separate set of shelves for books of poems published by New Directions -- most of their covers are black-and-white.

Oliver de la Paz said...

OH MY GOD! I love it! Very IKEA of you!

Charles said...

Beau and I were in talks to arrange our books by color earlier this year. Thanks for posting the result, it looks so cool!!

Jehanne Dubrow said...

Sandra, this is SO funny. I love it. You've already got me thinking about my own bookshelves (like I need another crazy project to tackle)...

kristy bowen said...

I always love how the color coded books look aesthetically. but I fear I'd never remember what color they were and where to find things...

and I've commited far worse heresy than hidden spines..my fiction shelves in the living room are two deep. There is a row of books lined and sometimes stacked horizonatally behind the front books..

Valerie Loveland said...

I have my books in alphabetical order now, but I kept them out of order for years. Once I spent a long time looking for Sharon Old's The Gold Cell. I couldn't find it because I was looking for a gold book instead of magenta.

Hem said...

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