Playing Solitaire with Books

There’s something very satisfying about shelving books in a bookstore. It generates calming enzymes, creates its own zen. I come home from a day job fraught with trying to make people see things they don’t want to see, and tackle a stack of books to let people see what they want to see, find what they want to find.

Organizing a bookstore’s shelves is no easy matter; T.S. Eliot wouldn’t have called it one of your holiday games. But it is fun. Take a stack of disorderly novels strewn about the front room table, sort them into genres, then heave a stack into your arms and march them to their proper places. O before R, Ch before Cl; like solitaire, shelving books requires just enough brain power to keep your mind occupied, yet not so much that you feel drained by it. It is the perfect restoration of harmonious balance to tired, misfiring neurons.

You can’t stay mad while shelving books. The Inuit say it’s bad to eat food cooked by an angry person, because the food absorbs the anger and people will choke; books also absorb your thoughts and feelings, but in a different way. As you’re handling titles, perhaps you come across one you read as a young’un: Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You might even open it to a random page, and smile a wistful, childhood smile. Thus the day’s chaos sifts away, book by book, smile by smile, as you remember where you were the last time you read the tome in your hands, be it mystery, a classic, even horror. Hey, at least Robert McCammon’s people have it worse than you; they’re getting devoured by werewolves….

And you discover things, mostly on the shelves, but sometimes in your own head. While you’re finding gems you remember reading, or books for your to-read list, your brain is thrown into concentrating on something else. Before you know it, little thoughts you didn’t know were sprouting, back there in the hidden recesses, begin to bud and blossom. You get ideas. You get restoration of time.

You get calm.

Once, in a town an hour away from my bookstore, I met a business associate for coffee. It was going to be a fairly difficult meeting, since (in a nutshell) I needed to convince her to do something my boss wanted, that really wasn’t in her best interests. Being early, I browsed the second-hand books the shop had for sale, running my fingers along paperback spines–until the cashier’s voice broke in.

“Ma’am, I said, can I help you?”

I glanced over at the college student staffing the register; she looked perturbed. I followed her gaze–to my chest, against which I held a small stack of Mary Balogh romances, which I had been busily sorting into families and reshelving.

Once a bookseller, always a bookseller. The trilogies were separated, after all; likely the poor little books were frightened and confused, alone in that big wooden world… I gave the cashier a friendly nod. “No worries! I’ll soon have this set to rights!”

So I don’t meet colleagues in that coffee shop any more, but the point is, it makes us happy to be the masters of our own domains, and a bookshelf is a particularly satisfying wee fiefdom. Jack and I cater to customers with our shop’s layout, but I have friends who shelve by author; by title; by categories of their unique making like “mysteries that have dogs in them,” “novels featuring knitters or book clubs or other gatherings” or even “books I liked enough never to loan out.”  My friend John has a set of shelves on one side of the room for books he’s finished, another on the opposite wall for books he’s going to read.

It makes us happy to create order from chaos, even if our organization looks chaotic to others. So if you’ve never tried it before, treat yourself and give bookshelf sorting therapy a whirl. You might be amazed at what you discover on your shelves–and in your own mind.

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10 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Playing Solitaire with Books

  1. There is also something satisfying about having your books organized. I like knowing where they are and which ones I have.

  2. McGuffyAnn

    Hi! Thanks for your response! McGuffy really is my 1st name, and since I read & write it is perfect for my blog name! 🙂
    I can’t wait to read your book!! Thanks!

  3. congratulations for all the success of the website, it’s growing more every day.

  4. I agree, there’s something so calming about sorting books; it’s like revisiting friends. I have my books half organized (some are grouped together by theme or some by author) but even the ones that aren’t in any particular order – I still know where they are. Lovely post.

  5. this one’s very interesting.

  6. really a nice article and great post.

  7. i love your post, thank you for sharing.

  8. Finally getting time to read your posts and lo and behold I came upon this one. I have spent the last 3 weeks with two wonderful friends who volunteered to help clean and sort shelves. The book store is finally set to rights. Have been sick for several months and have not been able to do much. Well any way back to my thoughts on your post. No matter what is going on in life as soon as I get in a room and start filing books away I do exactly as you. You start remembering mysteries you have read and that childs book you read to your daughters. I love this post and I love the way you bring thoughts and memories back.

  9. Paula

    Every year I remove my books inspect them just to be certain my babies are ok. It’s better than christmas ornaments for bringing on memories . Places traveled , The learning and the losing, It a wonderous thing, Oh and the lemon oil smells so good on the wood.

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