Why Alphabetizing Your Private Library is The Worst: A Journey

It’s Friday night and I’ve just consumed a small Albino Turtle. Two shots of espresso, my limit for this week, surges through my veins. I’m jittery and restless until an idea hits me. An idea to do something worthwhile. Something good. I quickly fold piles of clothes and vacuum the carpet that hasn’t seen the light of day in weeks. Vivaldi blares from a Bose speaker.

Armed with my catalog of books and a damp rag, I begin. I clear the top shelf of a bookcase, wipe it down, and start the alphabetizing process.The Invisible Road by Rafael Abalos goes first, followed by The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe. Then Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King. Slowly, the shelf fills. Tall books tower over vertically impaired ones. Fantasy buddies up to literary and mystery.

I am a revolutionary breaking the barriers between genres. Tonight, we are all one. We are paper. We are ink. We are words and ideas.

I play air violin to Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25 by Pablo de Sarasate and dance among stacks of books that cover the floor and bed. My mom steps into the room and turns right around. My brother asks me, “Are you out of your mind?”

By midnight, I think he may be right. I waver when my beloved Artemis Fowl books end up on the bottom shelf. As if they are nothing better than mass market paperbacks. I remind myself again, despite our outward appearances, despite the thickness of our bindings, we are all equal. Even with this inclusive new attitude, I am ill at ease with World War Z nestled against Wuthering Heights. Yet I knew when I began it would be complete, albeit meticulously organized, chaos. Determined to see it through, I shanghai my boyfriend into helping.

By three in the morning, I begin to admit that this undertaking may possibly be a mistake. I have only organized two out of four bookshelves, but that isn’t the issue. I can deny it no longer–the simple fact is that a new book would compromise the integrity of the entire system. For any new book that I buy, I would have to make room by moving every subsequent book one space over. I cannot do that for nearly 1,000 books.

The idea of a living shelf that is constantly evolving appeals to me, but it is not one easily maintained. Dejected, I quit. I do not get to the letter R. My dreams of having Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On next to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter are crushed.

The next day, I gain perspective. No longer are my books equal. No longer will I blur the lines. With steadfast resolve, I segregate my books by genre.

I make it to midnight before I clear enough space on the bed for me and my dog to pass out. My boyfriend has to move fifty or so books just to get to the bed.

He knows I’m crazy, but he loves me anyway.

Uttering every violent threat I can think of to myself, I finish Sunday evening, but I am pleased with the results. I have two bookshelves dedicated to fantasy, one YA/adult, the other MG. Another bookcase houses science fiction, paranormal romance, horror, and fantasy. The last is full of literary classics, realistic fiction, magical realism, thriller, and . . . fantasy.

I have a lot of fantasy, okay?

I even did a bit of organizing by color (of which I am normally staunchly against) for my stand-alones. Interestingly enough, after filling the shelves, I had about fifty mass market paperbacks that I had no space for. They’re now stacked between a bookshelf and an armoire. I can only imagine it’s like having spare parts after dismantling and reassembling an engine.

I would strongly dissuade anyone from this overly ambitious endeavor, particularly if you have a large collection. I’m sick of handling books and will not be reorganizing again until the next time I move. Alas, I recently bought four new books and they are sitting untouched in the box they came in because I don’t want to find room for them.

How do you organize your shelves?