Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Shelf! or how our books are arranged

Recently read a very funny passage about the overuse of the ! in films of the 60's (Hitari!) and how obviously today's audiences are not going to go see "Million Dollar Baby!" Anyway, I've been meaning to write these comments on some books I've read recently for awhile and this is the best way to start.

I've been reading a lot of books from "The Shelf" lately and it's making my head hurt. First, you should know that my husband I have a lot of books. A LOT of books. As in I had quite a few books when I met him and he had a staggering amount and now we have more books than some branch libraries. I'm not kidding. Friends are boggled. We once passed on an apartment because there wasn't enough wall space for the bookshelves. Our dining room is really just a library with bookshelves all the way round. Two of the walls have brick and board that H (Husband) constructed so they go up to the ceiling. We moved 51 banker's boxes of books when we moved in here 10 years ago and we've added lots since then. Like I said, most are my husbands and most are fantastic fiction. He worked in bookstores for years so we've always ordered what we want.

In our family room there is an entire bookshelf of vinyl albums (yes, my children, those strange black plastic discs) which are waiting for us to buy the equipment to burn them to CD (and some we will keep because of the cover art. Then the couch. Then there is a double bookshelf of graphic novels and comic books and books about comic books and graphic novels, and art books by artists and writers of graphic novels and comic books. It runs the gamut from Fantastic Four to Love and Rockets Locas. Note, these are just the bound comics and graphic novels, actual issues are in plastic bags in comic boxes under our bed and in our closet. This is where the book of Neil Gaiman's MirrorMask ended up. Oh, and we have lots of toys and figures as well. I try to keep them loosely near where they belong, so there's a Golden Age Batman on top of the bookshelf (of course, there are so many Sandman figurines that they are in the other room--I said loosely.)

Then on the next wall are three bookshelves. The other two walls have the chair and window and end tables and then the TV, stereo system, speakers and CD's. CD's--that's a whole 'nother story. The two side bookshelves are the cheap kind you can get at Target or Walmart. The one on the left has books pertaining to TV--companion books on The Twilight Zone, The Prisoner, The Avengers, Babylon 5, Star Trek, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Dr. Who (including my collection of Dr. Who novels, my Tardis shaped bank and my Sonic Screwdriver pen) and British Television in general. The shelf on the right is mainly children's books--Moomintroll, The Rescuers and Miss Bianca, Eloise, Harry Potter, chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien (I know not really children), George MacDonald, Dunctan Wood--and collected cartoons like the reissues of Peanuts and the Edward Goreys.

The shelf in the middle is special. I'll come back to it in a second. First just a quick cap of the shelves in the library/dining room. There are also three bookshelves on the wall behind. They contain mainly sci-fi anthologies, some good fantastic fiction by excellent writers who generally write things other than sci-fi and fantasy--Atwood, P.D. James, Lessing, Eco--some historical fiction--The Sunne in Splendor--and writers we once thought were cool, but like less now--Anne Rice for instance.

One entire wall is brick and board to the ceiling. This has the masters of science fiction and H has everything ever written--Azimov, Bradbury, Dick, Heinlein, Silverberg, Sturgeon, Del Rey, van Vogt, Kornbluth, Lem, Ballard--I'm vicariously proud of this collection. It also has the masters of horror, old horror--Lovecraft, of course, Dunsany, Lefanau (and if you like good horror and you don't know who these are, shame on you), and some lesser writers at the bottom who aren't quite worthy of The Shelf. Oh, and our encyclopedias and the tiny portion of "Fantasy" that we've brought ourselves to read--Zimmer Bradley for instance--and which we periodically decide to get rid of but then don't.

In the corner is also brick and board. This is actually frustrating to me because this is where our most beautiful books are kept and I would like them to be in the family room where people can look at them, but they are too heavy. They used to be across the tops of the three bookshelves, but then there were too many and we put them on the shelves and the shelves fell down so here they are. One wall has the Japanese collection. Novels by Mishima, Murikami and also Ishaguru, although he's English, he's also Japanese and his fist few novels, Artist of the Floating World for instance, dealt with Japan. His later novels are also part of a fantastic realm which puts him nearer to Murikami than say Zadie Smith. Some manga, although we are actually not big manga readers and lots of books on Japan. H was very fascinated by Japan for awhile. The other wall holds art books, fashion books, design books, theater books--in short, coffee table books, but enough for 40 coffee tables. This has the big reproduction folio of Shakespeare and Beardsley and Rime of the Ancient Mariner illustrated by Dore and The Bible illustrated by Barry Moser. My Erte books are here and books are Armani, Vionnet and Dior. The timeline of history and other large reference books. I'm proud of this corner too.

Ok, but what about The Shelf? The shelf is a real bookcase. I got it from a lawyer I was working for when he was going to throw it out. It's big and sturdy. H's added a shelf very close to the top where he's keeping a few manga titles that are under size, Lone Wolf and Cub and Samurai Executioner. But predominantly this is the bookshelf of our favorite authors and it's from these authors that I've been reading for a while. These are the authors who (to paraphrase Emily Dickenson) make me feel as if the top of my head has been blown off. They are writers of both staggering imagination and tremendous writing talent. To limit them by saying that they are sci-fi writers or even fantastic fiction writers is to miss the point. What's funny about the list is that they seem to be cross-referential. They all read and admire each other or so it seems sometimes. And in truth, that's how H (and I) find them--often. You read an interview and an author says, "Oh, I love this writer." So you go and find that writer and read him too. We don't entirely agree about everyone on the shelf but we have lively discussions about different writers merits.

First on the shelf is Harlan Ellison, and I actually would like Harlan to be moved in with the masters of sci-fi (Harlan hates that word) and fantastic fiction, but he's H's favorite writer and he's often listed as an influence on newer writers on the shelf, so he stays. Then, in no particular order are Neil Gaiman (a good friend of Harlan's), Tim Powers, Geoff Ryman, Ian Banks (also writing under Ian M. Banks), David Mitchell, John Crowley and some others, but I'll start with these. Stephen King has been on the shelf and then moved off for space reasons, and also because his output is so uneven--Dark Tower--yes, The Stand--yes, It--absolutely not. Likewise Clive Barker used to be on the shelf for Weaveworld and Imajica but then he got happy in his private life and his books have been terrible ever since. We disagree on Paul di Fillipo. I admit that his books are remarkably different and his voice unique, I just don't enjoy him that much. Kim Stanly Robinson probably should be on the shelf (though I have yet to read The Years of Rice and Salt, his novel of a world where China founded America from the west coast in.) His Mars trilogy is breathtaking in scope and detail. There are some writers with excellent imaginations whose writing style is bland--Connie Willis and Octavia Butler. I could go on, but I've been writing for awhile and you've probably all stopped reading.

Stephen King says that he feels that his novels all exist somewhere and he's just an archeologist uncovering them. Many of these books share a vision of another world side by side with ours, that throws ours in stark relief. Some show worlds that could be ours, but aren't. At any rate, I've been reading too many of them, and tomorrow I shall tell you about some of them.
TTFN

P.S. In our bedroom are MY five bookshelves which has more straightforward fiction, non-fiction, modern poetry, theatre and plays and classics. We have combined books only where it makes the most sense in a very loose fashion after all these years together.

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