Books And Pencils

london library

Frank considers that eternal question: how should one arrange one’s books?…

The other day I decided to rearrange my bookshelves. Their current state is, to put it mildly, chaotic. I seem to recall there being a system of sorts, some years ago, but latterly the apposite word to describe the disposition of my books would be higgledy-piggledy (unless that is two words). So I did the sensible thing in the circumstances, which was to fossick around until I found The Book On The Bookshelf by Henry Petroski. Then I sat down and turned to the Appendix, where the author suggests twenty different ways of arranging one’s books:

By author’s last name; By title; By subject; By size; Horizontally; By colour; By hardbacks and paperbacks; By publisher; By read/unread books; By strict order of acquisition; By order of publication; According to the Dewey Decimal System; According to the Library of Congress System; By ISBN; By price; According to new and used; By enjoyment; By sentimental value; By provenance.

There is a short essay attached to each of these headings, and they are followed by a twenty-first essay entitled By still more esoteric arrangements. One such is the system of shelfmarks used by the London Library. Whenever anybody writes about this, the word idiosyncratic appears early on, and is followed by a panegyric on the subdivisions of the Science & Miscellaneous category. If a book does not slip neatly into one of the main groups (Literature, History, Biography, Topography, etc), off to Science & Miscellaneous it goes. Here we find such pleasing juxtapositions as S. Laughter, S. Law, S. Lawn Tennis, and S. Leather. There is a full list of London Library shelfmarks online here (pdf), which I commend to all Dabblers for diligent study.

All I needed to do now was to make my choice and start heaving books off the shelves and making piles of them ready to be reshelved in their new, proper places. But alas, when I went to put The Book On The Bookshelf back on the bookshelf, I noticed, miraculously adjacent to it, another Henry Petroski book, The Pencil. Where The Book On The Bookshelf is a study of the dazzling success of the basic design of a book, The Pencil is a study of the equally dazzling success of the basic design of a pencil. So instead of rearranging my books, I sat back down with The Pencil, and was lost in wonder.


By Aerostat to Hooting Yard: A Frank Key Reader is available to buy for Kindle from Amazon now.
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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

3 thoughts on “Books And Pencils

  1. Brit
    September 5, 2014 at 13:36

    Sorting all your books ‘by enjoyment’ would be agonising but a very worthwhile pastime for the terminally bored.

    How about “By contribution to the good of humanity’. Or ‘By moral hygiene’.

    September 5, 2014 at 17:31

    By authorial gumption?

    By hyperbolic crassness of blurb?

    September 5, 2014 at 18:57

    I am at a loss, the logic escapes me, what is wrong with the time honoured method…’hers’ and ‘mine’ or, among certain northern tribes..’me’ and ‘wor lass’, the perfect line in the sand between Bobby Robson’s biography and a gaggle of Maeve Binchy.

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