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The Books on a Shelf

What I see when I sit in your library.

By Stephanie Van OrmanPublished about a month ago 4 min read
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The Books on a Shelf
Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

My parents were not into home decorating. One time they went out to buy a piece of art to cover a bare bit of wall over a sofa. They went to the store and fought in front of the framed pictures for three hours. They came home with a water lily painting by Monet because that was the only thing they could agree on. This story kills me because I can't think of anything less style-neutral than a water lily painting by Monet. In any case, we owned four humongous bookcases which covered most of the rest of the available wall space.

Now this is where it gets really interesting. I didn't know my parents had unusual taste in books or an unusual way of displaying them. When I go to other people's homes, if they let me sit somewhere where I face a bookcase, I am no longer paying any attention to the conversation. My friends can talk to me about anything and I'll respond like I care and that I'm listening, but I'll leave and I won't remember a word they've said, but I'll be able to list columns of books that were displayed in their library.

Most people's libraries are remarkably like a miniature version of a public library or a bookstore like they chose a few books from every single section before building something similar for themselves. They have a little cluster of children's books that stick out like sore thumbs because of their unusual sizes, shapes, thinness, and colors. They'll have a collection of reading primers that look like tiny magazines, again due to their thinness. Then they'll have a black spot of teenage gothic romances. You can spot it easily because it's right next to the Jane Austen. There will probably be an entire shelf of classic fantasy novels that have all been made into movies. Then they'll have a collection of finely bound hardbacked books. They look amazing from a distance, but when you get up close, they've all been published by Reader's Digest. Sometimes they'll have an encyclopedia collection they inherited that is hopelessly out of date, but the spines are still pretty. Then the non-fiction begins. If you're lucky, you won't spot any relationship advice books. It's unfortunate to see exactly which relationship books they've chosen when it's your first time visiting because that's way too much information. On the bottom shelf, they'll have textbooks left over from university that no one looks at anymore, but they're the heaviest and the most expensive books there. They were expensive, so they're hard to part with, but they're also sort of anchoring the whole thing to the floor.

My parents did not have diverse tastes in books. Three of my parents' bookcases were my father's. Two of them were entirely theology. That is weird, considering my father was not a minister. He clearly missed his purpose in life. The last case was archeology, topography, and martial arts. The only purpose I can think of for having those subjects is to research material for writing historical fiction, which he didn't do. He owned maybe three fictional books at most.

My mother's case was weird too. The top two shelves were hardcore English literature, followed by a shelf of classic Canadian literature, followed by a shelf of books on gardening, and the bottom shelf was mostly sheet music.

Tell me that's not weird.

My parents had all these books, cases and cases of them, and there was nothing for me to read. One time, I was playing a trivia game in junior high and the question was: Where is the Sea of Tranquility? I was the only kid who got it right because I had thumbed through one of my father's books that had maps of the moon. But most of his books were not that interesting. If I wanted to read something, I had to go to the library. It was pathetic because it was just to take out ordinary books that everyone owns... because that is all libraries have.

As for my own collection of books... I have multiple cases in multiple rooms. As a matter of fact, if I see a blank wall, it doesn't even enter into my head that I should buy a piece of art to be displayed. I will buy thin shelves that are intended to have pictures placed upon them and I'll put books on them so their covers face outwards. That's where I store the books I intend to read.

I throw away ugly dust jackets all the time.

I also organize my books by color. I put the red ones on the bottom out of sight because I hate the color red and it doesn't match my decor. One day, I'll probably turn all the red ones around so only their creamy pages are visible. I'm not likely to forget which titles have red covers. This snobbery of mine is especially hilarious because I have written a book that has a red cover and it is on display with its cover out. It's like a blood stain on the wall that I refuse to clean.

I also have a bookcase full of binders and duo tangs. The binders have cute spines. The duo tangs have cute colors and they all go in cute shelf boxes to help them stay upright. I have these because I'm a novelist who is just about to finish her 28th novel. I always send my books to print twice before I publish them for editing purposes. There are quite a lot of them now. I keep them thinking that all that paper will burn nicely in a fire if the end of the world should happen sometime soon. And since I like to read Margaret Atwood, I'm rather convinced it will be sometime soon.

How do you organize your bookshelves?

FamilyFriendshipChildhoodBad habits
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About the Creator

Stephanie Van Orman

I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.

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