Odd neighbors

A recent temporary lapse in the demands of my time, due to sending a first draft off to my editor and having to wait for a reply, drove me to my shelves. Not to read, but to see if I could do something about the double waist-high stack of books waiting to be shelved, about a third of which came in for the Best First Edgar award I judged last year.

So I ruthlessly culled, ending up with eight or ten grocery bags ready for the library, and a richness of virgin space on the shelves. Which soon was filled but never mind, I have my floor back.

In the process of filing, however, I amused myself in noticing patterns (these are, I should mention, shelves devoted exclusively to crime fiction.) Why, for example, are the Cs so action-filled? Lee Child and Liza Cody are followed by Michael Connelly and John Connolly, them come Patricia Cornwell and Robert Crais’e2’80’94one embraces Edmund Crispin as a calm and academic cuckoo in a nest built of razor wire.

Mostly, though, what struck me was the occasional odd juxtaposition of neighbors the alphabet makes for. Some are nicely placed, such as Anna Quindlen’e2’80’99s BLACK AND BLUE next to Ian Rankin’e2’80’99s BLACK AND BLUE (this one is, I admit, cheating, since they first came together accidentally and should have been separated when I organized their books chronologically, but I couldn’e2’80’99t bear to pull them apart.) Andrew Taylor is surely very comfortable next to Josephine Tey, the two of them leaning together and murmuring dry and witty English jokes, and I imagine that, after an initial bristling mistrust, Sara Paretsky and Robert Parker would eventually find a certain pleasure in trading pithy remarks, as might Dashiell Hammett and Joseph Hansen, Margery Allingham and Margaret Atwood. Hill and Hillerman would quickly become Reg and Tony, two old men with different accents but a similar abiding interest in the workings of the human heart.

Then there are the unlikely clans: the Burkes, Alafair, James and Jan, surpassed only by the Smiths: April, Ian, Julie, Martin Cruz, and Sarah–imagine the family reunions.

Michael Dibdin and Peter Dickinson might even find something in common, for all their differences, but at some pairings, the mind can only boggle. James McClure’e2’80’99s SONG DOG next to Sharon McCrumb’e2’80’99s ballad series? And Nevada Barr with’e2’80’a6Dave Barry?

Probably a good thing my editor works so fast, and I can get back to what I should be doing.

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  1. Elaine B. Mulligan on May 24, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    LOL – Nevada Barr with’e2’80’a6Dave Barry?

  2. 2maple on May 24, 2005 at 7:30 pm

    I wish I had more shelves for books, hence the boxes in the attic.

    However, in our house, books have to compete with other things for shelf space – like the shelf devoted to the collection of odds & ends that we’e2’80’99ve found on our farm that has been a farm for a long, long time (interesting stuff like a ‘e2’80’9cHans Brinker’e2’80’9d skate blade, a bayonet, a flat iron, a cow bell that we actually used for a while, some large hand forged spikes, a silver buckle, and some old tools). In the living room, right!?!

    One thing I have been fascinated by is watching what my daughters choose to read after rummaging through the books at home’e2’80’a6attic or otherwise. It always intrigues me how two kids with the same parents develop such different tastes or interests. The little tornadoes make it impossible to keep them in any order whatsoever. I don’e2’80’99t much care – as long as my favorites don’e2’80’99t get lost! I guess my books would feel like they are at a cocktail party’e2’80’a6they never know who they’e2’80’99ll be put with next’e2’80’a6but always someone different and interesting.

  3. FeltHat on May 24, 2005 at 9:41 pm

    Books Breed – is my theory! one minute you have shelf space – the next none! – & it has nothing to do with visits to bookshops.

    But then I can’t resist a clever or intriguing title either – in fact that might have been how I first found you – ‘To Play the Fool’? irresistable!

  4. Terminaldegree on May 24, 2005 at 9:43 pm

    I keep the Kellermans together out of convenience, but that’s the extent of my alphabetizing system.

    I keep books together by a sense that they would make good neighbors, or that they somehow fall into similar categories. Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller are grouped together on the same shelf in the “strong women” category. Carol O’Connell and Dennis Lehane are shelved neatly in the “dark and creepy” section. And next to my Laurie R. King collection? Almost everything in print (and a few works that aren’t) by Dorothy L. Sayers.

  5. Chris on May 25, 2005 at 9:51 am

    My Laurie R.King titles are currently shelved next to Sue Grafton! I have to admit this is due to quantity of titles by a particular author for the shelf space! Alphabetical order would be a nightmare for me, although American authors are usally but not exclusively close to each other – I wish I had much more space, of course!

  6. Mary on May 25, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    I’ve tried to shelve books by the same author together, especially if I have a lot of them. But that’s the extent of my filing system. And even with this limited system, I find that I often don’t make room for new books with the older ones. So that kind of throws the system out the window after a bit.

  7. Jenna G. on May 26, 2005 at 12:15 am

    Believe me, I can sympathize. I have only one bookshelf in my room, and the books are three deep on each shelf, not to mention the 10-book-high pile on both sides of my bed. And this is after I donated a giant bag’s worth to the library, too. I don’t have an organization system for my books, but it still is funny to see what ends up next to what: “The Scarlet Letter” next to “The Lost Years of Merlin” next to “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” next to “The Giver” next to “Macbeth”. The ones I read most often gravitate to the front, of course; I associate my books with feelings, smells, places, etc. Some are called upon to banish the demons of everyday life more often than others, so any filing system I attempted (before I grew to know better) was completely ruined by the end of the week. I admire anyone who can keep something organized for more than 48 hours.

  8. Erin on May 26, 2005 at 5:06 am

    *sigh* Books. I’ve decided my goal in life is to have the library from Justice Hall. Beautiful!

    The boyfriend of a friend proclaimed last week that no one should ever own more than three books at any given time. I had to stare at him like he had an arm growing out of his head.

    I am currently under negotiation with my roommate for next year about how many bookshelfs I can have in the apartment. I’ve managed to get at least one full one shoved in my room by downsizing my desk, but I have to come up with a good argument to get another one into the dining room.

    *snickering* Would it not be funny if all the authors at the next book convention were given alphabetical seating arrangments? Based on Laurie’s observations, the conversations would be quite interesting.

  9. Elle on December 14, 2005 at 1:46 am

    Hello all,

    My books are only lightly organized: anything that is a comfort book is in my room sorta/kinda organized by author. Cookbooks are segregated to the dining room. Craft books are stacked (by size, believe it or not) into a tiny three level bookshelf that used to house the Encyclopedia and Dictionary from my childhood. Hurricane Andrew destroyed most of the books from my childhood, including the Dictionary (sigh)(the cool one that had onionskin pages and neat pen and ink drawings of some of the objects defined in its pages). However, I was able to save and refinish the tiny bookshelf.

    Anyway, the non comfort books are stacked here and there all over the house, when they aren’t being toppled by the people and cats that live here. My two cats especially like to sprawl on paperbacks. In fact, the little terrors are long hair cats, and they can completely cover a paperback without it looking like they are covering anything. I think they do it to drive me mad, since they usually do it to a book I’m currently reading, and I am usually reduced to hair tearing gestures before I figure out what has happened. They also do this to car keys, and once, to the left shoe of my roommate.

    Has anyone else noticed that cats and books seem to go together?

    Oh, I also keep a comfort book in my backpack, and in my car. I don’t like to be anywhere without a book.

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