Organizational Strategies of a Chronic Book Collector / by Naima Lowe

Dear 10 readers, I’m writing this entry from the sanctity of my very own little 8x8 home office in Olympia, WA. We arrived at our house last Tuesday but the majority of our stuff didn’t get here until the following Monday morning. We’ve spent the last week acquiring some much-needed new things while waiting (frustrated) for the rest of our things. I must admit that while I complained about having such a small fraction of my wardrobe to choose from, there was something sort of nice about having so little stuff around the house. Now that the house is full of unopened boxes, I’m sort of wishing that I’d been more diligent about abandoning some of my things.

Have I really carried my high school yearbooks around with me this long? But wait, there’s only Sophmore and Senior years. Huh? What happened to the other two?

Which brings me to the central subject of this post.


I’ve started to slowly unpack my books, and as I do so I am struck with the age-old question of “how do I organize them?” I’ve seen many techniques in action. Alphabetical by author and/or title is a popular choice, and certainly practical if you’re a real collector. But I’ve always given up about half way through that ardous process. Organization by color is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but I’m not sure that I’d have any more patience for that endeavor than I would for the alphabetical route. I sometimes end up with loose schemes that are a combination of genre, size, and theme, but somehow anthologies always mess things up: Most of my favorite ones are invested in consciously confounding genre, and the themes and subjects end up going all over the place.

Should I resort to the dewey decimal system? I don’t think my collection warrents that level of detail, and lets not forget that I am too impatient for such things. So what then? Well, as I start negotiating my shelf real estate, I start to notice some trends that have followed me from house to house over the past 10 years. All of my Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler books tend to find themselves together in the box, and thus on the shelf. Kathy Acker tends to be nearby. Ok, those all make some sense. I could make them quasi alphabetical (Acker, Butler, Delaney), but when I put randomly threw Pussy King of the Pirates on the shelf just now I happened to put it next to Blubber by Judy Blume. There was a strange resonance, and I wondered if there could be more esoteric approaches to my schema.

Acker + Blume = Books by and/or about anxious white women. Or perhaps books that made me anxious about white women after reading them.


I could organize them by the time period in my life that they represent for me, or by their read/not read status:

Books I haven’t read since high school.

Books I’ve read over and over every year since high school.

Books I bought in high school but never read.


I did once think about organizing my entire book collection into two large sections. READ and NOT READ. But for some reason that depresses me. I think that’s because my speed and intensity as a reader has diminished significantly over the past several years, even though I collect books at the same rate as I did as a voraciously book hungry child and teenager. I’m not sure what happened. I occasionally blame the internet or cable tv or going to film school. All of these contemporary media driven realities have enabled a short attention span in me (as in many of us), but I’ve been a consummate multi-tasker for as long as I can remember. I used to read books during commercial breaks while eating dinner.

Books have always been a huge part of my life, and as I build this little shrine to my literacy, I’m happy to at least have them here to remind me of my strange habits and particularities as a reader and thinker. Did you know that as a kid I used to make my Dad invent research projects for me so that I could create bibliographies? For fun. This is what I did for fun. I still find bibliography making fun, which is why I teach college for a living. But somehow the intense desire to just read read read has slipped a bit beyond my grasp, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps I can focus this round of book organization on becoming reacquainted with the patience required to organize them in a way that is pleasing, exciting, and reminds me why they are so special to me.

What else, dear readers, is a chronic book collector to do?

Yours Truly,