Late last week Vice writer Blake Butler paid homage to Godine author Georges Perec’s intriguing look at library organization in the essay, “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books.” While according to Butler, some “less active readers” feel that an arrangement with no specific order suffices for their libraries, a more passionate breed indulges in assorted, distinctive, and often spontaneous setups. Perec’s suggestions for creating libraries that delight their owners are neither narrow nor rigid. Rather, he leaves the decision up to the readers, instead asking them to reevaluate how they perceive their favorite books.
"In 1978, Georges Perec published a now-famous essay titled, 'Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books,' in which he outlines various analytical methods one might use to organize a home library. He suggests the following possibilities for classification: alphabetically, by continent or country, by color, by date of acquisition, by date of publication, by format, by genre, by major periods of literary history, by language, by priority for future reading, by binding, by series. 'None of these classifications is satisfactory by itself,' Perec notes, 'every library is ordered starting from a combination of these modes of classification, whose relative weighting, resistance to change, obsolescence, and persistence give every library a unique personality.'"
An avid reader since elementary school, I have often altered my bedroom “library”, (the cramped area between my headboard and the wall), and now reconfigure my dorm room “library”, (the cramped area between my futon and the dresser). No matter how minimal the space, I’ve enjoyed arranging my books to my liking, from a kindergarten obsession with flashy covers (Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish often taking center stage), to a middle school self consciousness with stealthily obscured romantic titles. However, I’ve been fairly vanilla with my bookshelves. Butler’s take on Perec’s essay is an interesting one in that once we begin to examine unique library arrangements, we realize that the possibilities are endless. One of his most far-fetched musings is of organizing books based on, “the number of times a copy of the book has been carried into a McDonald’s.” Although most of us would not attempt this, the choices are fascinating even when they aren’t pragmatic. By imploring his readers to rearrange their bookshelves, Perec summoned not only the organization in his readers, but also the creativity.
Georges Perec is the author of Life: A User’s Manual, hailed as “one of the great novels of the century” by (among others) the Times Literary Supplement and the Boston Globe. His other books include W, or The Memory of Childhood; Things: A Store of the Sixties and A Man Asleep; Thoughts of Sorts; A Void; and Three by Perec, all available in paperback from Godine. Georges Perec died of cancer in 1989.