Tooo Many Books

This past weekend I acquired yet another small bookcase. This brings the grand total of bookshelves I have in my apartment up to eight. If you ever saw my apartment, you would laugh out loud at the thought. Slowly but surely, my apartment is starting to look like it is inhabited by a crazy monkish scholar-type lady (who occasionally branches off into bouts of wild Archie Leach madness). There’s nothing I love better than to have my books in order. I can spend hours with them, rearranging them, trying to figure out a better system … Should it be by author? By topic? By publication date? It can get quite Byzantine.

To me, peace of mind means having my books in order. Any time I move, I pretty much set up my books first. (Well … maybe I put some pots and pans away, first). But in general: The books are the thing.

I spent a bit of time yesterday dealing with the book re-arrangement (made necessary by the new shelves) and for anyone who gives a shite, here’s the system:

Bookcase # 1 near front door
This tall 5-shelved bookcase is for adult fiction. We’ve got all of Margaret Atwood. We’ve got all of Jane Austen. We’ve got all of AS Byatt, JD Salinger, EM Forster, and Michael Chabon. I am fans of their books – good or bad – and I must have them all. Oh yeah, and I have all of Jeanette Winterson too even though her books have been CRAP since she wrote The Passion. Other authors make brief appearances. George Orwell, Jack London, Hawthorne. Thomas Hardy. F Scott Fitzgerald. Stephen King. Oh and Nancy Lemann – my favorite whimsical Southern-esque writer. Love her stuff.

Bookcase# 2, also near front door
A 2-shelved bookcase. This is for children’s literature. I could actually use another bookcase for these, since I’ve shoved them in every which way. I have books in here that I have owned since I was literally 4 years old. Peter Rabbit, for example. All the LM Montgomery books, all the Madeleine L’Engle books, all Paul Zindel’s wonderful books, CS Lewis, and my favorite – Jane Langton. We’ve also got your Harriet the Spy here, your EL Konigsberg, and your Noel Streatfield series and your Enid Blyton series. Why just have Circus of Adventure when you can also have Mountain of Adventure, Valley of Adventure and Drag Queen Club of Adventure? I’m a collector at heart.

Bookcase # 3 in the kitchen
Yes. I have two book shelves in the kitchen. I can’t help it. There is no other space for them.

Bookcase # 3 (with 5 shelves and all) is a hodgepodge – but some of my favorite and most-used books are here. Top shelf we’ve got all my science books. (Science for Dummies, obviously). I’ve got The Discoverers, I’ve got Fermat’s Enigma, I’ve got Synchronicity, Longitude, Zero, Schrodinger’s Cat – and others. Let’s see. I’ve also got my religious books in bookcase # 3. I enjoy placing the religious books right next to the science books. I like to imagine that they fight it out in the night, while I sleep in peace. Then – on bookcase # 3, I’ve also got my rather extensive “true crime” collection. I’m a huge true crime fan, dating back from my first reading of Helter Skelter.

The true crime then segues into my “cultural commentary” section which basically means: “Any book that really doesn’t fit in with any other of my categories”. PJ O’Rourke is here. Camille Paglia’s stuff is here. Also Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and others. We then segue from “cultural commentary” into one of my most favorite sections: Philosophy/Political Science. Ahhhhh. Here we have The Prince, and John Locke, and Plato and Aristotle and John Stuart Mill. Very important things to have in any library. For reference. Right beside THIS section is the Holy Grail section: “Documents in US History”. Here we’ve got The Federalist Papers, and the greatest speeches made by US Presidents, and the Constitution and the Declaration. We’ve got Thomas Paine, and Edmund Burke. Good stuff.

And then … there are three shelves of scripts.

Like I said, Bookcase # 3 has a little bit of everything.

Bookcase # 4 in the kitchen
This bookcase continues the theme begun in Bookcase # 3 (with the scripts) – and carries it a step further. Here we have my vast collection of entertainment biographies. Please. We’ve got Lauren Bacall to Tennessee Williams here. We’ve got Bogart and Cary Grant … I’ve got Charles Grodin’s AWESOME autobiography It Would Be So Nice If you Weren’t Here. You name it, I’ve got it. After the biographies of specific PEOPLE, we move into biographies of either certain theatrical MOVEMENTS or certain theatres. I’ve got the history of the Abbey theatre. I’ve got Real Life Drama (an awesome book, which is the history of the Group Theatre, in the 1930s). After the theatre section, we segue into the film section. Here are all my books on film-making. Michael Caine’s book (probably the # 1 best book to own, if you want to act in films) – I’ve got the TERRIFIC book called The Devil’s Candy (which describes the entire debacle of the Bonfire of the Vanities movie – from conception to box office flop). I’ve got Robert Evans’ book, I’ve got Roger Ebert’s movie reviews, and a ton of “Making Of” books. Making of Casablanca. Making of All About Eve. I LOVE this particular bookshelf, and obviously dip into it often.

Now we move into my bedroom/living room/study. And yes, it is all one room … but I have it blocked out into different functions (with completely invisible lines).

This room has four bookcases in it. As well as a bed, a dresser, a chair, a desk, a couple plants, and my grandmother’s chest at the foot of my bed. And strangely … the room doesn’t feel all that cluttered. Hm. Feng shui? Highly possible.

Bookcase # 5 in the bedroom
A teeny 2-shelver over by my desk. This holds all my poetry. And also 4 of my cherished self-help type books. heh. For some reason, this makes sense to me: Poetry also is a form of self-help. So it’s not weird to put Yeats next to Road Less Traveled. I mean, it’s a LITTLE weird, but not TOO weird.

Bookcase # 6 in the bedroom
An enormous beautiful bookcase, stained a deep dark green. It’s got 6 shelves. Let me linger lovingly over all of these marvelous books.

Here, on display, for a total of 3 of the shelves – are all my books on totalitarian/fascist/communist/militant Islamic regimes. Some of them blend into plain old history – but in general, all of the history I am interested in basically has to do with totalitarianism. So we’ve got a little Pol Pot, we’ve got Nicholas and Alexandra, we’ve got a little Stalin, a little Castro, a little Saudi prince oily bastards, we’ve got some Nazis, we’ve got some Iranian mullahs. We’ve got Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire here as well. VS Naipaul’s 2 books on the “lands of the converted” (countries who have converted to Islam – non Arab countries – Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan) are included. I love those two books. He’s such a curmudgeon, I love it. Rebecca West, Robert Kaplan’s stuff, Kapuscinski’s stuff, Colin Thubron’s stuff, Bernard Lewis, and yadda yadda yadda. I have them all.

After the totalitarian archive, we move into American history – which, as is probably obvious, takes up a huge amount of space. First we have the biographies. I primarily focus on “those guys”, but I finally bought the Lincoln biography everyone recommended to me here – and am excited to start it. One of these days. After the biographies, I have a more vague shelf, which I call, in my head: “American Events”. (I know. I’m insane. Please don’t judge.) Here we have: Gilbraith’s book on the stock market crash, we’ve got All the President’s Men and The Final Days.

And then – we segue into the general Biography section, which takes us to the bottom of the bookcase. Truman Capote to JRR Tolkien. I put them all here (well – all of them EXCEPT for US Presidents and any person who is an actor – they have their OWN sections.) This is starting to sound as rigid as my aromatherapy rules. God FORBID that my biography of Benjamin Franklin ends up in this more “general biography” section. I think my entire worldview would collapse. But it’s really broad – Lewis Carroll, Einstein, Katherine Graham, anything every written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – Ernie O’Malley’s books, all of Viktor Klemperer’s journals – Primo Levi’s harrowing memoir about surviving Auschwitz, and also his great memoir (which I think won the Pulitzer??) The Periodic Table … I have every stupid trashy biography of Sylvia Plath ever written. I don’t care how biased they are – I have to own them anyway. That collector’s thing I am tormented by. I’ve got biographies of James and Nora Joyce. But I wouldn’t stoop to buy the “she was REALLY his muse” biography of Lucia. Nope. My collector’s instinct would not go that far. Don’t try to convince me that that man wasn’t a genius, and that all his inspiration came from his lunatic ballerina-wannabe daughter. DON’T DO IT. I warn you. Lucia was not the wellspring of his genius. Please.

Bookcase # 7 in the bedroom
A black 2-shelved bookcase, with quite a bit of space on each shelf, and so here I put my art and photography books which are, in general, kind of tall. Mapplethorpe, Kuniyoshi, my Book of Kells book, my Charles Dana Gibson book (see all the ladies floating around on my blog??) I love my art books. I don’t have many, but I cherish them.

Bookcase # 8 in the bedroom
This is the one I just acquired. It has three shelves. At long last, I can have an entire bookcase devoted to WRITING. I have dreamt of it, I have held the fantasy up … I have been unwavering in my goal … and now I have it. So here – IN ONE PLACE (I’m very big on that. Being able to get things IN ONE PLACE) I have my Writer’s Market 2005. I have all the literary journals I subscribe to. I have my compiled “Best Magazine Writing” books, that I buy every year. I’ve also got all of the New Yorker compilations (best profiles, best Talk of the Town, best humor writing, blah blah). I have books on writing TECHNIQUE – including Stephen King’s wonderful book On Writing. Stephen King fans should definitely pick it up. EM Forster gave a series of lectures on what a novel is … these were put into a book. I’ve got it. There are many others there – some really helpful (I think Stephen King’s might be the best of the lot), some more artsy-fartsy than helpful – but I love them. Oh and of course: dictionary and Thesaurus.

And there you have it. I have already filled up the brand-new bookcase, with the spill-over from other shelves … so far so good.

Peace of mind = orderly books. Even if there are tooooo many of them. And that’s all there is to it.

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27 Responses to Tooo Many Books

  1. Jayne says:

    There are NEVER too many books. Ever.

  2. red says:

    I even have room for Pat of feckin’ Silver Bush.

  3. Ken Hall says:

    Your next assignment, should you choose to accept it: Bookshelf #9, to contain a full set each of Encyclopaedia Brittanica and the Oxford English Dictionary.

    PS: Reinforce the floor first.

    PPS: You’re dead right about On Writing. I’ve read four books on the craft: Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, Zen and the Art of Writing (that one’s by Ray Bradbury), and On Writing. All have value, but On Writing is worth the other three put together. The only thing I could imagine being better is if Dashiell Hammett had written a really good book about writing.

  4. red says:

    Ken – I am so glad to hear you second my motion!! One of the most extraordinary things about this book is that – after his accident he was confronted with serious writer’s block, and had to literally follow his own advice, step by step, in order to finish that book. Amazing.

    Great book – great great advice for writers.

  5. Dan says:

    //To me, peace of mind means having my books in order. //

    Are there people who think differently?

  6. red says:


    I have heard of these people … only rumors, though.

  7. skinnydan says:

    I think you & Mrs. Skinny could easily swap your bookshelf #2’s without any notice.

    We’re alphabetical types, so you’d lose Blyton, but I think you’d end up with a complete Betsy-Tacy set.

  8. red says:

    Oh my God. Betsy Tacy Tib!! What a rush!
    hahahahaha I forgot to mention those. I have those too – only not a complete set, I believe.

  9. skinnydan says:

    We’ve been reading them at bedtime off & on for oldest child. She seems to be losing interest, but me & Mrs. want to find out what happens.

  10. red says:

    There’s the kid’s series, when Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are little kids – but then the books go up to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib getting married, you know – so there’s a more young-adult section of the series. There are 4 books in the series – one for each of their years in high school. Those were the ones I really loved.

  11. DBW says:

    You are a vixen. You have all your totalitarian/fascist/communist/militant Islamic books in your bedroom. I think I just popped a blood vessel.

  12. popskull says:

    I’d love to have a card to your library. I’ve got some of the same stuff, but I’ll bet I could follow a lot of thoughts a lot further with some more of the books you’ve got.

  13. red says:


    Who’s the lunatic here? The chick who has the Islamo-fascist books lined up in her bedroom – or the guy who thinks that’s sexy??


  14. red says:


    You could probably fill in a ton of the gaps I have in my library. I’m embarrassed to admit what they are, but what the hell:

    I have a large gap of WWII. I have Rise and Fall of 3rd Reich – and I have books about the Nazis and the camps – but … well, actually that’s pretty funny now that I just read over what I just wrote.

    “I don’t have any books about WWII. Well, except for all the books I have about the Nazis and the concentration camps.”

    But my reading is more focused on the ENEMY – as opposed to how we fought the war, if you know what I mean. I bet you have a ton of books like that, right?

  15. I started Chabon’s latest, The Final Solution, last night.

  16. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    Edith Wharton? Henry James?

    Frederick Forsyth?

    Did you have Beverly Cleary books when you were a kid?

    Mine are supposed to be somewhat ordered between the living room, dining room, bedroom, and the kid’s bookshelves upstairs, but they keep crawling around and intermingling.

  17. ricki says:

    I guess I’m just a slob…I don’t really have much of an order to my shelves. I have individual shelves that may contain books of a single theme – like I have a shelf for my nature/ecology books, but math and quantum physics sneaks in there too. And a book of “old books by American authors,” except it’s got Mrs Henry Ward there too….and my religion/spirituality shelf has some other stuff, like Philip Lopate’s huge essay anthology, and the three Amphigoreys, on it.

    I don’t know. In my house, the books seem to find their own places. It’s like they choose compatible neighbors. I remember where things are based on the “where I left it last” system of filing, and when I actually do try to clean things up, that’s when I lose stuff – because I’m moving too many books to too many different places for my “neural-net” filing network to be able to absorb.

    I do have one bookshelf totally devoted to a single thing – one of the shelves in my bedroom is devoted to children’s books, either the ones I saved from my childhood, the used copies I bought to replace the ones I read to death or to fill in for books I had to check out from the library, and new children’s books that interest me. Oddly, the shelf is right next to the shelf where I keep the books about bloody historical periods (Crimean War, Middle Ages…). I think it sort of balances out.

  18. Anne says:

    I’ve got nine bookshelves – six large, three small. I’ve got one in the kitchen too! Though instead of an entertainment section I have gay fiction/queer theory stuff. And instead of documents in U.S. history I have the history of diplomacy.

  19. Anne says:

    Oh and I have some poetry books that ARE self-help books. Are intended and marketed that way. Poems to get you through the day, &c.

  20. Kate says:

    Oh my god, bless you, woman! I don’t know a single other person who reads Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and I love her.

    I admire your eight bookshelves and also, in fact, lust after them. I have only two bookshelves, and therefore I have an entire section of my living room devoted to stacks of books directly on the floor. Sacrilege!

  21. red says:

    Kate – I love Anne Morrow’s stuff so much that I post excerpts from her all the time – they’re over on the sidebar somewhere. Her journals are just the best!!

  22. red says:


    I seem to remember you saying something about collecting old children’s books you once loved – I love that. I also love that they would be next to war books.

  23. red says:


    I read all of Beverly Cleary’s stuff when I was a kid – especially the Ramona books. I need to go buy them for Bookshelf # 2.

    And as to your other questions, I am fearful of answering, but here goes:

    — I’m not into Edith Wharton (although I recognize her skill as a writer!) I’ve read a ton of her stuff and it just doesn’t … land for me.

    — Same with Henry James.

    SORRY!!! I tried, really I did!

  24. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    Ha ha! I won’t slap you!

    I don’t care much for Age of Innocence. House of Mirth is better, if much darker, and Custom of the Country is about the girl you love to hate. The Children is a haunting story about a group of kids whose parents are fantastically wealthy, and their futile attempt to find some emotional stability. I gave my kid Ethan Frome to read, with just the caveat that she must remember that she was getting Ethan’s point of view and she had to step back and try to see the big picture; she sided with Zeena most emphatically, just as I did. But if that’s not your cup of tea, ‘scool.

    I can’t believe you wouldn’t like Roman Fever, though. It’s a collection of short stories, and one in particular, “Xingu”, is funny as hell. It’s about a bunch of pretentious people getting their comeuppance. Here – you can read it online if you want to.

  25. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    And check out this creepy ghost story.

  26. My Bookshelf says:


    I love reading about how other people organize their bookshelves! It makes me very determined to concoct a mapping system for my own books which will include sorting by genre, author, character, & finally publication date and/or character (for…

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