Alpha by subject … or by dinner party seating rules? Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks on a shelving obsession.

By Geraldine Brooks, From The Global Mail:

I was expecting my sister and her husband for dinner, but she arrived solo.

“I didn’t feel like bringing him. We just had a big fight,” she said.

“What about?” I asked.

“Alphabetising our bookshelves.”

For most couples, this would be thin gruel for a contretemps. But my sister is a bibliophile and married a man of similar passions. They had just completed a house renovation, a feature of which was a magnificent bookshelf that spanned two floors. All had gone well as they placed their novels, histories, memoirs. But schism had arisen over the biographies. She wanted to shelve them alpha by subject, on the grounds that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to recall the author’s name. (Since she is, herself, a biographer, this view seemed both pragmatic and un-self-aggrandising.) But that notion was anathema to her husband, who wanted to follow proper library practice. Heated words had been exchanged.

I too have a book-loving spouse, but fortunately he adheres to no rigid shelving doctrine. In fact, he prefers to ignore the shelves, piling books around him in tottering redoubts. When he can no longer move freely in his study or get out on his side of the bed without negotiating a mogul field of mounded volumes, he’s happy enough for me to gather the books up and arrange them as I like. If he wants a particular title, he just asks me where to find it. His indifference is fortunate, for my own philosophy is more dewy-eyed than Dewey decimal; more idiosyncratic than ISBN.

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