In my house, Jane Austen trades riffs with the Beatles

Once upon a time, in a land far far away – okay, it was 1978 in Liverpool – a new friend watched me unpack my books. As I took them out of boxes, I sorted them by genre: novels, poetry, plays, biography, criticism, history. That accomplished, I started to alphabetize the fiction by author’s last name.

After about 10 minutes of this, Clare tilted her head of flame-colored hair to one side and said: “You’re an order out of chaos person, aren’t you.”

Well, yes. I don’t trust inanimate objects. I think they get up to all kinds of mischief when my back is turned. Which would be okay if I were getting up to mischief myself, but I don’t have time. I’m too busy keeping track of the inanimates.

Socks dematerialize in my dryer. Pens get beamed up to other planets. Death-wish dishes bang themselves against the sink while being washed. I’ve lost at least two jackets because they decided to go home from a restaurant with someone else.

The problem with socks, pens, etc. is that I have to use them frequently, i.e., move them about. But my books stay on their shelves most of the time, so if I sort and alphabetize them, I should always know where they are.

Odd bookfellows

My system creates some odd bookfellows, especially in biography. Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary is probably fine sitting next to Quentin Crisp. The girl from Yamhill might seem a world away from the flamboyant Naked Civil Servant, but both were rebels from an early age, both are funny, and both, in Mr. Crisp’s words, could never be anything but themselves.

Odd bookfellows
Odd bookfellows

I’d love to ask Alan Bennett how he feels about being flanked by the Beatles on the left and Vera Brittain on the right. For that matter, I’d like to ask Jane Austen what it’s like being next to the Beatles. Is there any cross-pollination going on?

Darcy to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice (new version): “In vain have I struggled. It will not do … You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Note in the margin in Jane’s handwriting: “A most judicious supplement, the repetition adding emphasis to the ardour of Darcy’s declaration.”

Meanwhile, a new Beatles song: “In Mansfield Park there is a girl of stern morality, who doesn’t like the thought of acting in a play … ” Or possibly, “We all live near the town of Meryton, the town of Meryton, the town of Meryton.”

In the bookcase that holds my fiction, T.H. White’s great book The Once and Future King cuddles up to the collected oeuvre of P.G. Wodehouse. King Pellinore will fit right in at Totleigh Towers, home of Sir Watkyn Bassett  – “Charming fellah. Never met him in me life” – while Jeeves shimmers over to Gramarye to put Mordred in his place.

Of course, a haphazard shelving method will also create some fruitful adjacencies, if that is the word I’m grasping for (Wodehouse’s style is infecting me now). If you have any odd couplings you’d like to share, please leave a reply below.

Now I’m going to take a photo for you. I’ll just get my camera – hmm. It was in this drawer yesterday …

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2 thoughts on “In my house, Jane Austen trades riffs with the Beatles

  1. You are such a good writer. I love this. I put my books in the bookcase by color. It totally matters how pretty they look from a distance of ten feet. Who cares if you can’t locate a particular title? It’s all about the total effect. Did I mention that HGTV is my favorite television network? molly

  2. Thanks, Molly. I’ve seen some beautiful photos of bookshelves in which the books are sorted by color. Lovely rainbow effects.

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