Our shopsitter Emily guest blogs on her shelving experiences

EmilyI like to organize. So in a bookstore where there’s always books coming in and out, daily, I feel these urges to put all the shelves in perfect order – alphabetical, by genre, all in a line, etc. Which has led me to stand in front of the shelves for a few days in a row now, head slightly tilted, sometimes just staring, sometimes repeating the alphabet out loud to myself, looking like a weirdo, trying to figure out what all these words on the spine mean and each bound object relates to each other.

I’ve discovered who Grace Livingston Hill is and that “inspirational romance” is quite popular (I’m going to have to try one, it sounds quite nice). I’ve seen parenting books that start with dealing with your own mommy issues and work through just about every month of the next twenty years of your life. There’s more gender in books than I’d ever realized before – clearly, some books are ladies’ books and some books are gents’ books. I’ve spent most of my time so far among the fiction books, and I’m totally impressed by the number of stories there are to tell in the world.

But one of the coolest parts has been realizing that all (or at least most) of these used books have come from someone else’s home, where they were sitting on someone else’s bookshelves or nightstand or closet floor. They probably all have a story to tell about the home they used to live in and how they got that slightly crooked spine. In my time here, the books on these shelves have already witnessed dozens of friendly faces, new and familiar, a rowdy game night, four cats who got adopted, and a strange lady who keeps staring at them, planning a master plan about how best to move them shelf to shelf to shelf just so they can get adopted, too. If only books could speak, right?

The Vagaries of History Shelf Sorting

Winston Churchill did say "We shall fight on the beaches, but...."

“We shall fight on the beaches…”

Do bookstore owners everywhere dread re-organizing the  history section? To me, this slog is something between an exercise in diplomacy and a stress test for depression.

To whom does “Western Civilization” refer, exactly? Do Romans go in Ancient History, or under Italy? And how does one divide Wars? (There are usually two or more countries involved, you know.)

Do World Wars I and II go under European or World history; how will South America and Australia feel about that? I have three books in here about South America, and finally wound up putting them in “Hispanic.” Yes, I know.

The Gulf Wars – ho boy. Middle East, or American History? Or in Christian Nonfiction, under St. Jude? (never mind)

Yes, I understand that the Enlightenment and Reformation were different in origin points and influences than the Renaissance, but I couldn’t fit the Renaissance on the Italian shelf because it’s also holding all those Caesar biographies, so those three epochs are bundled together.

Yes, I KNOW Africa is neither a country nor part of the United States, but African history and the American Civil War books wound up together because they took up a whole shelf between them and this arrangement kind of hid the fact that we have 900 books on the American Civil War and four on Africa, plus two on countries in Africa. It’s not a political statement.

The entire top shelf of the history section, stretching right around the corner from the two American shelves to the one European (and other) shelf, is consumed with the enigmatic category “White House.” It wasn’t sarcasm when I put Hilary’s It Takes a Village up there; where else could one place that?

But I didn’t think John Chretien (the Frankophile 20th prime minister of Canada) should be in White House; the French section had room. Yes, I know that Canada isn’t in Europe, thank you, sir.

What’s a bookstore owner to do? I’m tempted to just write “History, as written by its winners” on a sign and hang it above the shelves.