...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, January 29, 2005

At some point, I'm going to have to stop buying and start reading

For my Sociology/Anthroplogy class, Qualitative Research Methods, we all have to write a "thick description" about our dorm rooms or bedrooms. The professor hasn't said what we're going to do with them yet, but she instructed us to use gender-neutral language and to not include identifying information, so my guess is that we're going to swap papers and then try to determine what a person is like based on what they have in their room. I've got a lot of random crap (700 or so origami cranes strung together, an Arabic Coke bottle, a map of Mexico, UGT flags, tons of books, etc) in my room, so I'm looking forward to writing my paper and seeing what others can deduce about my personality based on my possessions. At the very least, that I'm a major pack-rat.

On the other hand, I don't want to come across as a total slob with piles of newspapers and books lying all over the place, even though that's...often the state of my side of the dorm. Messy in a quirky sort of way yes; slovenly no. So today I resolved to at least put all my books back on the shelves. Those of you who visited my room last year may remember that I kept all my school books on the shelf above my desk, so that they'd be easily accessible while I was studying. Since I rearranged the room this year, that's less convenient--the room is basically situated now to maximize sloth, with all the studying done lying or sitting on the bed, and the desk as more or less a junk repository--so I started just setting my texts on the floor by my bed. Then, this semester, I had to buy such a crazy amount of books that there wasn't room for them by the desk, yet it was also clear that the "toss it on the floor" method of organization was neither asthetically pleasing, nor did it facilitate easy movement through the room. Solution: put them on the top shelf of my little three-shelf bookcase from Bed Bath & Beyond. Problem: Bookcase is full of other books and, on the top shelf, CDs. Solution: Take every single book and CDs off the shelves and reorganize them topically.

This was a good thing to do for more than just the "Oh-my-God-I-have-class-in-five-minutes-where-the-hell-is-that-book" reason. Because, until this afternoon, I had no organizational schema, it frequently took me a long time to find, say, my Rilke books, and as I start to develop my own Religious Studies library, I really should have all the books about, like, liberation theology grouped together.

As I pulled books out of the bookcase, off the shelf above my desk, out from under my night table and bed, I realized that nearly all my books fall into a few general categories:

1. School books. Duh.

2. Religious Studies books. I have three Bibles, a Historical/Critical treatment of the Hebrew Bible, some general Christian Inspiration books (The Purpose Driven Life, stuff like that), and several books each on liberation theology and mysticism.

3. Poetry. Mostly Rilke; he's the only poet with whose work I would say I'm well-acquainted, although I haven't actually read that much of it. I'd like to become more poetically literate this year, so that when someone mentions Robert Browning or John Donne or something, I can contribute intelligently to the conversation. Kind of funny story about that: I came across Donne somewhere and liked what I read, so I went to Powell's to see if I could get a cheap edition of his work, The Best of John Donne or something. As I was browsing in the aisles, I read through a couple of his poems. Then, when I went to buy it, the guy at the check-out was the cute British guy, and he was all, "Oh, I love John Donne. I studied him in high school, in England. Do you remember that poem where he's talking to the sun as it's rising?" And as it happened, that poem was one of the few I had just skimmed, so I was all, "Ah yes, 'Busie old foole, unruly Sunne, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windowes, and through curtains call on us?'"

But I digress.

4. Latin American literature. The major subdivisions here are books in English, books in Spanish, and old text books from last year about literary analysis. The two most represented authors are Gabriel García Márquez (in English), and Mario Benedetti (in Spanish). I have all of Isabel Allende's novels in English, but not here at school. I also have a few Chile guidebooks and grammatical reference books (the 501 verb book, that kind of thing).

5. Slavic literature. Subdivisions: Russian and Czech, both in translation. I have a couple anthologies of Soviet women's writing that I bought for my Russian class last year and kept because I love them; Anna Karenina, although I've never read it; and a collection of Chekov stories and plays. My collection of Czech books is more complete: I have several of Milan Kundera's novels, two of Ivan Klíma's, one of Capek's, and one of Svorekecky's. I also have a biography of Václav Havel and Letters to Olga, the collection of letters he wrote to his wife while he was in jail. These books now live where my school books used to: on the shelf above my desk.

6. Miscellaneous. Everything else, basically. Mostly American authors, and not all "high art" either: this would be where my Baby-Sitter's Club collection resides. (When I say "collection," don't get the wrong idea: I don't have all 130-odd books here at school; in fact, I've never even owned all of them. I just have about 15 or so that I've found at thrift shops in the area.) I also have all the Onion books, Augusten Borrough's two books, Grapes of Wrath, some random mystery novels, and other stuff.

Re-organizing (or really, organizing for the first time) my book collection naturally led me to wonder how and why I've accumulated all the books I have, and why I've kept all of them. Frankly, I haven't read the majority of books in my room, yet I would never even entertain the thought of getting rid of them. I've written about this before, but I love to have all my favorite authors right near me when I'm working; even though I haven't read all their works, I feel better to be surrounded by their collective genius, as though they're cheering me on as I bust out a paper. Plus, what if I were suddenly, inexplicably, overcome with the desire to read a biography of Janis Joplin RIGHT NOW? I'd better keep Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin nearby, just in case.