The Perils of Alphabetizing

Shopsitter Andrew guest blogs today, ruminating on his first week amongst the bookstore shelves….

Bookstore shelves trend toward chaos. I’m not sure if people are to blame… or if it’s some law of physics. Like the weather, small changes in the system can lead to big distortions. Mix up a Mailer and a Mann and somehow you’re only hours away from Nora Roberts popping up in the Westerns.

On some level I had suspected this. But as I started tackling the shelves one by one, re-alphabetizing and stacking, the emotion I was surprised to feel again and again was guilt. My favorite British television personality, David Mitchell, has a joke about how he feels guilty when he doesn’t wear certain pairs of underwear as often as others. “Sorry blue striped, but you’re just too tight,” he’d sigh. Well, sorry Frank Herbert, you just won’t fit there.

I found myself amongst piles of sci-fi paperbacks, wracking my brains to keep from snubbing John Scalzi and to ensure justice was dealt to L. Ron Hubbard, who had held a prized eye-level slot before my gerrymandering. I probably wouldn’t have given as much thought, or poured as much heart, into such considerations if the actual living, breathing authors were sitting in front of me waiting for a seating assignment.

I had several triumphs and a number of failures. I relegated L. Ron’s pulp-schmaltz to a dark corner. But in doing so I had to shift Heinlein and the entire Dune series into equally unfavorable light. All of Asimov is together in a prime display area, but it meant pushing Pierre Boulle down (I’m a sucker for anything Planet of the Apes).

The absolute worst was when I found myself running out of space, which forced all sorts of horrors I’ll never be able to forget. Beloved books are now mid-stack, lost in forbidding towers of flashier spines. I hope one day Game of Thrones and To Say Nothing of the Dog can find it in their hearts to forgive me. But probably nothing can forgive the dreaded double stack, with a pile of paperbacks directly in front of another. It’s fine when it’s Anne McCaffrey obscuring more Anne McCaffrey, but something is deeply wrong with the world when David Weber blocks out A.E. Van Voght.

The amount of emotion we’re capable of projecting on to things that could never emote back could power decades of mediocre day-time soap opera hand-wringing. But it must just be in our nature to attach baggage to even small choices. Or maybe this is just a revealing look at one man’s particular neuroses. Whatever it is, I’ll be tackling paranormal romance next, so watch out Stephenie Meyer.

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