A friend of mine visits her books every New Year’s Day, removing each one from its shelf, dusting it, deciding whether it stays or goes, and puts it in the distribution pile or back on the shelf. Visiting my personal library is also a January habit of mine, but I have experimented with several different styles of organizing the eight bookshelves in my townhouse (one in the office, two in the bedroom, two in the living room and three in the guest room). The office bookshelf contains books I am likely to refer to in my writing—speeches, articles, books, blogs. The content of that bookshelf is about half stable and half varying with whatever project I am currently pursuing.
The rest are somewhat organized by subject areas (religion, economics, ethics, history, biography, politics/government, reference, fiction…) but the organization tends to break down over the course of a year with additions, loans in both directions, and recycling. With bookshelves scattered throughout the house (although nothing like the book-trove of the Carl Sandburg house in North Carolina!), this act of loving care for my books involves a lot of movement from one room to another. It also generated a growing pile on the dining room table to take to the local library, which will keep some and put others in their monthly book sale.
I made a couple of changes in the routine this year. One was to relegate to the bottom shelves those books I intend to keep but am unlikely to revisit. These include textbooks from my teaching career, textbooks from seminary, and books I wrote myself. Sorry, guys, love you all and am keeping you, but don’t expect to be consulted or reread any time soon.
The second and most important change was to dedicate a shelf to books I have not yet read but intend to read, as well as a selection of the ones that I think are worth re-reading. That turned out to be the most enjoyable part of this year’s library project. I looked at some fiction books that I bought but forgot about, started and dropped, or for some reason got diverted and never resumed reading. Most of them are in the library box now. But I have promised myself to read some that were distressingly bulky, like two of the Ken Follett series that started with Pillars of the Earth. I have lots of inspirational reading, short pieces or reflections that offer a good companion to my morning journal writing. It’s nice to have a place to find them when I am l looking for a better reading start to my day than the morning paper. That is one shelf that will be visited regularly to pull out a book for my reading table, decide where it goes when I am done reading it (keep? lend? recycle?), and adding new volumes to the collection.
Winter hibernation, with or without a pandemic, is a good time to resume your love affair with books. They have no commercial interruptions. They do not preface everything with Breaking News! or similar enticements to drop whatever you are doing and enter medialand. They are, like a faithful pet, ready and waiting for your company when you choose to enjoy theirs.
So let me invite you to the feast spread before you, books you have loved or will love, books that will lose your attention after the first chapter and books that will not let you go. (Another friend gives a book 50 pages to persuade her to either ditch it or read to the end.) An organized pantry makes cooking much easier. An organized library does the same for the feast of words, ideas, images, and stories that is waiting for your attention.