Despite the fact that we have an ever-shifting eternal library of humanity below us in our bookshop, my husband and I keep a few books in our personal space on the second floor.

Yesterday I had occasion to sit down for a few minutes and pick up two of the tomes that have graced the coffee tables in every house we’ve owned. One is called In the Company of Bears by Curtiss; the other, In Every Tiny Grain of Sand by Lindbergh.

bearsBears is a beautiful, tall book featuring wonderfully whimsical illustrations that make you look twice on every page. Clouds are bear-shaped; overstuffed armchairs have bear bodies in the upholstery pattern. And the words are just sweet: “When you’re sad you can sing the saddest songs/When you’re mad you can beat on the Chinese gongs.” It’s the kind of  book that lets you crawl inside its pages and get your childhood back for ten minutes.

Sand is also ostensibly a book for children – no psychoanalysis please – but it’s a collection of prayers from many franchises of faith, charmingly illustrated on themes of light, dark, home, and family. Lindbergh does some lovely rewrites of famous Psalms into verse, and the Celtic prayers include “Deep Peace,” which Jack and I used at our wedding, yet my favorite in the whole book remains a tiny little prayer in a bottom right corner, by G.K. Chesterton: “The snail does the holy/ Will of God slowly.”grain of sand

Maybe that’s why I love these books in the first place. They are “slow down, regroup, relax, say a prayer and have a cup of tea” books. In a world frenzied with helping other people slow down and enjoy books, these are the ones that remind me to stop and enjoy the moments of giving enjoyment. Sip ‘n smile.

That snail isn’t going any place quickly, but he is getting somewhere.

Playing Solitaire with Books

There’s something very satisfying about shelving books in a bookstore. It generates calming enzymes, creates its own zen. I come home from a day job fraught with trying to make people see things they don’t want to see, and tackle a stack of books to let people see what they want to see, find what they want to find.

Organizing a bookstore’s shelves is no easy matter; T.S. Eliot wouldn’t have called it one of your holiday games. But it is fun. Take a stack of disorderly novels strewn about the front room table, sort them into genres, then heave a stack into your arms and march them to their proper places. O before R, Ch before Cl; like solitaire, shelving books requires just enough brain power to keep your mind occupied, yet not so much that you feel drained by it. It is the perfect restoration of harmonious balance to tired, misfiring neurons.

You can’t stay mad while shelving books. The Inuit say it’s bad to eat food cooked by an angry person, because the food absorbs the anger and people will choke; books also absorb your thoughts and feelings, but in a different way. As you’re handling titles, perhaps you come across one you read as a young’un: Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You might even open it to a random page, and smile a wistful, childhood smile. Thus the day’s chaos sifts away, book by book, smile by smile, as you remember where you were the last time you read the tome in your hands, be it mystery, a classic, even horror. Hey, at least Robert McCammon’s people have it worse than you; they’re getting devoured by werewolves….

And you discover things, mostly on the shelves, but sometimes in your own head. While you’re finding gems you remember reading, or books for your to-read list, your brain is thrown into concentrating on something else. Before you know it, little thoughts you didn’t know were sprouting, back there in the hidden recesses, begin to bud and blossom. You get ideas. You get restoration of time.

You get calm.

Once, in a town an hour away from my bookstore, I met a business associate for coffee. It was going to be a fairly difficult meeting, since (in a nutshell) I needed to convince her to do something my boss wanted, that really wasn’t in her best interests. Being early, I browsed the second-hand books the shop had for sale, running my fingers along paperback spines–until the cashier’s voice broke in.

“Ma’am, I said, can I help you?”

I glanced over at the college student staffing the register; she looked perturbed. I followed her gaze–to my chest, against which I held a small stack of Mary Balogh romances, which I had been busily sorting into families and reshelving.

Once a bookseller, always a bookseller. The trilogies were separated, after all; likely the poor little books were frightened and confused, alone in that big wooden world… I gave the cashier a friendly nod. “No worries! I’ll soon have this set to rights!”

So I don’t meet colleagues in that coffee shop any more, but the point is, it makes us happy to be the masters of our own domains, and a bookshelf is a particularly satisfying wee fiefdom. Jack and I cater to customers with our shop’s layout, but I have friends who shelve by author; by title; by categories of their unique making like “mysteries that have dogs in them,” “novels featuring knitters or book clubs or other gatherings” or even “books I liked enough never to loan out.”  My friend John has a set of shelves on one side of the room for books he’s finished, another on the opposite wall for books he’s going to read.

It makes us happy to create order from chaos, even if our organization looks chaotic to others. So if you’ve never tried it before, treat yourself and give bookshelf sorting therapy a whirl. You might be amazed at what you discover on your shelves–and in your own mind.