The Geography of a Library Is The Geography of a Mind, A History Boy, 19/04/2014

I moved into a new apartment with my girlfriend a while ago, which has been generally amazing, and the best development in my personal life since I moved out of my mother’s house. The only thing that really annoys me, aside from the pigeons that have been roosting on our balcony, is that through the chaos of moving day, all our books, DVDs, and CDs* are jumbled together on the shelves. As well, those bookshelves are overflowing, because our combined collections are larger than what they can contain. Some stuff is still in boxes. My old friend Arnold Bennett once told me that you should always keep your library so that no more than two-thirds of your books have already been read. Including electronic books, I’m keeping to his wisdom.

* Yes, I still have CDs, most of which are either new purchases since I came to Ontario, or that I brought with me for personal reasons. So my Super Furry Animals record is a purchase from a McMaster used music and movie stand, and my Sunn O)) record that I got at Hamilton’s Cheapie’s is brilliant but I don’t play it too often for fear of shaking the building down. All my Frank Zappa, Manic Street Preachers, and TV on the Radio albums are with me for sentimental purposes.

We're not quite at this point yet, but it's conceivable for
our house about a decade down the line.
So once I buy a fourth bookshelf with my April paycheck for her books, everything will be properly arranged. The only question is the order. Here’s the layout, first of all. There’s one bookshelf behind my computer desk, which means its bottom three shelves are obscured. Still accessible, but it involves crawling. So whatever goes there will be low priority — stuff that I like to have, but that I don’t really access too often. Next to that is a more accessible shelf between my console and our couch. There’s a third bookshelf across from the couch next to our television, and when I order the fourth, it’s going on the other side of the couch. If we eventually buy a fifth shelf, it’ll go either next to the fourth, or in the corner of our dining area. 

The shelf behind my desk will house the books that I don’t use very much. So the bottom shelf will have my old ESL teaching textbooks, my hardcover or large softcover books of history (Bruce Cumings’ Korea’s Place in the Sun), politics (Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With the Devil), and journalism (Peter C. Newman’s When the Gods Changed) that I don’t refer back to very often, along with some old fiction hardcovers I picked up at a university book giveaway. The Barack Obama books that my mother got me in 2009 will go down here too, because he’s betrayed all the hope I put in him during his first election. My Complete Works of Shakespeare hardcover goes on the second shelf, along with all the philosophy books that I don’t re-read very often (Hegel, Kant, Descartes, Dewey, Hume, Habermas, and the ancient Greeks) along with my old issues of the Canadian philosophy journal Dialogue, and survey texts and coursepacks that I used for undergraduate classes, whether taking them or teaching them. My books by the speculative realists (Graham Harman, Ian Bogost) will go here too because I wrote one paper about them that I’m still trying to get published, and I don’t really see much more philosophical potential in that movement at all.

This will spill onto the third shelf as well, along with more recent philosophy that I don’t read very much but may still be useful for some projects (Badiou, Derrida, Heidegger, Russell, Gilbert Ryle, Kripke, Searle, Habermas, the history of analytic philosophy, Dewey and the other pragmatists). The shelf above would house fiction that I don’t read much anymore, and the top shelf would share this fiction with my graphic novels and comics. The CDs would rest on top of the books on the bottom shelves.

The more accessible shelf between that one and our couch would start with general DVDs on top (my assorted movies and TV shows, my Herzog collection), then transition to my Doctor Who collection (new series, classic series, novels, Big Finish audios resting on top of those). After that come my science-fiction books (Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, Iain Banks, Terry Pratchett). The bottom shelves would include my biographies (of Deleuze and Guattari, Althusser, Fellini, Russell T. Davies, and Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin), and physically large philosophy books (Johnson and Lakoff’s Philosophy and the Flesh, Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach).

The shelf next to our television will have all the large fiction books that I particularly love on the bottom shelf (In Search of Lost Time, Don Quixote, Joyce, Borges, Lovecraft, all my Dostoyevsky, War and Peace, Pynchon, Infinite Jest, Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain). Working my way up the shelves, Wittgenstein, my political philosophy (late-period Sartre, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Mill, Tocqueville, Marx, Peter Kropotkin, Max Weber, Marinetti, Edward Said, Foucault, Negri, Arendt), then my Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson. All the books by Deleuze, Guattari, the Deleuze-Guattari gestalt, and the writers inspired by them (Manuel DeLanda, Brian Massumi) would probably have the third shelf to themselves. Upper shelves would feature my environmental philosophy and related studies,** media theory (McLuhan, Katherine Hayles), feminist theory (Margaret Urban Walker, Amy Mullin, Julia Kristeva), transitioning into my physically smaller favourite fiction (Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Laurence Sterne, Virginia Woolf, and Roberto Bolaño).

** Tim Morton goes here too, even though he identifies as a speculative realist and his most recent book (which I have electronically) demonstrates just how bankrupt and obscurantist so-called Object-Oriented Ontology can become. But I have his much better books of environmental philosophy, Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought. Sometimes, a bookshelf can rewrite history, if only a little.

When I was in my undergrad, a history professor I knew was moving offices and getting rid of a bunch of his old books for free. I came back from the Arts Building with enough books in my arms that the stack went from my crotch to my chin. My old philosophical mentor, Jim Bradley, saw me with this cartoonish stack and declared, “Now there goes a learned man!”

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