Book Shelves

This is going to be a a bit rambly, and about a kind of niche, specific thing, which has, possibly, been eclipsed on the internet by newer or more important things. Here’s what I want to say: people can shelve their books however they please. This #hot #take is brought to you by the virulent reaction to the “shelve your books spine in” decor suggestion that swept the internet a month-ish ago. If you haven’t heard of this backlash, honestly that’s probably for the best. Basically, there was a large reaction on twitter that boils down to “it is morally vacant to shelve your books with the spines facing in” or “if you have books shelved spine in, it means you never actually read”.

I’m going to be a full-fledged Master Librarian in  few short weeks (God help me), so I have some expertise in the world of books, and I want to tell the world that there is no morally superior way to shelve your personal book collection. I’ve been thinking too much a lot about this lately, and I have some thoughts around my larger “shelve your books however you please” admonition.

Book shelves are performative. Choosing where to shelve what books and how they are displayed is a performance of all of the things we associate with books. This goes beyond performing “well-read” to include how knowledgeable and wise a person is and beyond that to all the stuff you see in those “date a reader”-esque memes. Readers are empathetic! Readers have an active inner life! Readers love to curl up with a book on a rainy day! While this is a monolithic view of what reading “is”, it still has an impact on how we choose to shelve our books. Along with this, interior decoration in general is performative, and taken in combination with book-performance, it can easily become a sensitive and value-laden subject.

Considering the ideas that are attached to book-performance, it makes sense that seeing books shelved in a way I consider “bad” or “wrong” would cause a reaction. I feel like – and this is especially applicable on twitter – there is often not time on the internet to take an intervening meta-thinking (you thinking about your thinking) step in between an initial reaction and a contribution to the conversation. Here’s an example of what I mean: for a very long time I was vocally opposed to people shelving their books by colour. I would say that it was a bad way to shelve books, which implies that I thought the shelver wasn’t a “serious reader”. Of course, I shelved my books in a different way, and so I was “better” than the by-colour shelver. It took literally years for me to take a step back, examine the deeper implications of what I was saying, and realize that a) it is none of my business how people shelve their books, b) if books are findable, the shelving system is working, even if I don’t like it, and c) the way I shelve my books is just as much of a performance as shelving them by colour is. I needed to think about my thinking before I could realize that I was in the wrong.

It is important to question everything and hold on to the good, and I don’t think the idea that shelving books a certain way is morally better than shelving them another way is a good thing to hold on to. When my books were shelved basically willy-nilly with no discernible order, I could still find the book I wanted. If I shelved books spine-in, I’m sure I could adapt and be able to find the book I wanted without too much trouble.

I’ve been talking about shelving as a finding strategy, but there’s a pretty obvious other use of shelving, which is decoration. I have two bookshelves, one in the guest room and one in the living room. The guest room shelf has the bulk of my books on it, and they are shelved alphabetically by author last name because that’s the way that makes the most sense to me for finding the book I want. The shelf in the living room has my pretty books and pretty bookends on it, arranged for their looks rather than function. I’m performing literacy in different ways on each shelf, just like I’m performing it differently through the books scattered around my nightstand. What’s the difference between me choosing fancy cloth-bound books for my living room shelf and another person choosing spine-in shelving for their display area?

Basically, for a personal collection, the Dewey Decimal system is not better than shelving your books spine-in, and vice versa. And I should know. I’m a Librarian.

One before I go.

As you know, I am a week away from leaving on my NZ trip and therefore am elbows deep in online bookings and piles of clothes and toiletries. I am hoping to blog a few times while I am away and keep you updated on the cool things I get up to. So for this blog post I will not really bother talking about the trip. Besides, blog post about getting ready to leave on a trip seem about the most boring thing ever. “Will she pack the vest and the jacket? Or just the jacket?” Riveting stuff.

I figured I’d give you an update on my last couple months. I have talked very little about what has been going on with me the last little while on this blog.

Just under two months ago I hurt my knee at work. I’ve hardly posted anything about it because it is a WCB claim and if you have any experience dealing with the WCB system you probably know that it is always a good idea to keep claim information as private as you can. That it is not outside of WCB’s practice to investigate people making claims and use social media posts against them. This makes it sound like I had something to hide. I didn’t. It was a very open and shut “she smacked her knee at work and then it swelled up really big” type of thing. I had witnesses and same day first aid and emergency room reports and I diligently followed all of my doctor’s orders. Which meant sitting with my knee up for weeks and weeks. Very boring. Nothing out of the ordinary or questionable in any way. But still, it is good practice to keep the details between the doctor, physiotherapist, employer, and WCB case worker. You know.

I will, however, share with you this one picture of what it looked like the day I hurt it.

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Crazy, right? I did no actual damage to my knee (that we are aware of). No torn ligaments, broken bones, or damaged cartilage. But it has taken two months for this swelling to go down and it is still not all the way gone.

This has meant that for the last two months I have been on modified duties at work. No stairs, no ladders, no kneeling, and only very limited standing and walking. Which means desk work. I have been re-writing the planer mill’s JSAs (job safety analysis) and training manuals. At first it was a really great break and I felt really good about the job. It really needed to be done and I had the skill set to do it. I still feel good about it, but now it feels more like I am back in school and being forced to write papers all day.

Working all day in a quiet office got a bit boring, so I started listening to music while I worked. I pretty quickly go bored of music and moved on to podcasts. I found this new podcast that I love. It is called Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. If you don’t know, Dax Shepard is Kristen Bell’s husband. He has guests come and he has very real and genuine conversations with them. I was not expecting to love it as much as I do.

I realized I should save up some episodes so that I had something I loved listening to while I was sitting in airports and riding on buses on my trip. He does one episode a week that is around two hours long. So about a month ago I stopped listening to them and now have about four saved up for my trip.

So then I was again without something to listen to. But the podcast made me realize that I really liked listening to people telling stories about their lives. So I made the understandable jump to autobiographical audiobooks.

I should take a quick time out to talk about my position on audiobooks. I am NOT against audiobooks. I think they are great. But I have never been able to listen to them. I can’t. I have tried and it is too different. I feel like I am cheating somehow by not actually reading? Even though I know that I am not and I don’t think that about other people when they listen to audiobooks. And that is not really even the problem, its more that it feels different. It feels like I am experiencing the story in an entirely different way and I don’t like it. Apparently I am very attached to my own inner voice and having someone else read it changes the entire experience for me in a way that prevents me from enjoying the story at all. I once found this quote which maybe sort of explains it:

“I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say, its a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.” (Robin Sloan, Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore)

I have, of course, not read the actual book that comes from, just the quote. But it felt true when I read it and maybe explains the difference between reading and listening and why I like one and dislike the other.

BUT. I found that listening to an author read a book they wrote about their own life felt more like listening to a podcast. So I was totally okay with it.

So over the last few weeks I have been ripping through audiobooks. Here are the ones I have listened to.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

I’ve been sort of kind of meaning to read this one for a while. It was good! I must say I sit slight more on the Amy Poehler side of this friendship, but I love them both and this book was enjoyable and Tina is badass and awesome.

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I have this book and have read it before but it was wonderful to have Amy read it to me. Amy is amazing and Leslie Knope is maybe the greatest character there has ever been on TV.

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Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

I did not really know anything about Anna Kendrick except that she was in Pitch Perfect. Did you know she started out on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony when she was 12? I did not. This book was really good and I really enjoyed it.

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I have read Mindy’s books before. But just like with Amy’s book, it is great to have the author read it to you. It feels like a podcast. Mindy is great. This book was written before The Mindy Project began and is focused more on her time in college and writing for The Office.

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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

It just seemed right to follow it up with this one. This one is more about her time working on The Mindy Project. She is still great.

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

I am almost done this one. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I do have to say I did not love this one as much as some of the others. I guess I just didn’t like the style of the reading as much. I did find it to be very relatable at some points. It was also kind of depressing at other points. I have a hold on Wishful Drinking at the library.

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One More Thing by BJ Novak

I am part way through this one. So the jury’s still out on my conclusion. I LOVED the first story. Some of the others have been a bit meh. We’ll see how it finishes.

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I mostly just went to the library website and tried to find as many of these types of audiobooks as I could. It turns out that I am a lot more interested in autobiographies written by females. I did try to listen to Rob Lowe’s autobiography. But I got a couple chapters in and was bored. Turns out it was going to be mostly about his childhood, family, and his time on the show The West Wing. I wanted it to be an entire book about playing Chris Traeger on Parks and Rec. I did’t really give it too much of a shot.

I have a couple on hold I am waiting to listen to (Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Tiffany Hadish’s The Last Black Unicorn). But if you have a recommendation within this narrow niche of audiobooks, let me know.

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So that’s it. My last few months have almost entirely been either sitting in an office writing manuals or sitting at home with an ice pack tensored on my knee. Luckily, however, my knee has progressed enough that it should not interfere with my trip and everyone involved in my claim has given me the a-okay to go.

I hope you are excited to see NZ blog posts and hella photos. I will be posting a LOT on my Instagram and I will try to get a few posts up here too.