The past week has been incredibly busy with work away from the shop. I’ve been organizing a conference and running around trying to figure out how to channel a whole lot of powerful people with opposing agendas into a productive dialogue while not ticking anyone off, and between one thing and another, let’s just say I was REALLY looking forward to getting my head down Saturday and puttering amongst the bookshelves.
Books may have personalities and after-the-shop-closes lives, but they tend to enjoy revealing truth rather than obfuscating it. A leisurely Saturday morning coffee, followed by stacking and straightening and stocking and shelving, and for dessert, some serious contemplation of how to divide Finance, Gender Studies and the –ologies into Self-help/Career and Everything Else…ah, bliss.
When I got home and told Jack of my heart’s desire, a funny look crossed his face. “Well, you’ll have plenty of fodder to work with,” he said. “We got in a few donations while you were away.”
To paraphrase Scotland’s national bard, the best-laid plans of mice and board directors and bookslingers gang aft agley (go skittering sideways). Put another way, be careful what you wish for. Inner peace, here I come.
At least once a year, Jack and I discuss whether we should have a LGBT section in the bookstore. We also debate the pros and cons of an African Interest shelf.
See, once you open this can, the worms just explode in all directions. Why do we need an African section? Alice Walker and Toni Morrision are just fine in Classics, thanks. But what about the annual publication from a contest of short stories by African American writers? The biography of Sojourner Truth? The ethnographic classic “Why are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” That obscure text that often gets misrepresented, “White Men on Race?” If they were shelved together, people could find them easily, instead of having to know they existed and search the appropriate category.
But, if we put “black” books together, where does the color line stop? Where would we put that horrible nasty book about how Afri-centrism is wrong and should be expelled from Academia? Does Maya Angelou have to leave Classics? Would romance novels featuring people with black skins on their covers relocate from the Luv Shack?
What about same-sex partner books? We can differentiate between Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries and her social commentary, no bother, but what do we do about Lisa Alther’s Five Minutes in Heaven? Dina McGreevey’s memoir Silent Partner? And is anyone going to bring up the word “ghettoization” or get mad because we even HAVE a LG-et al. section?
We don’t know what to do. Our default is to do nothing. There are lots of wonderful books in the shop that particular people—not just people with black skin or same sex partner preferences, but people who like to cook vegetarian, people who love dogs, etc.—would like if they knew they were here. Categorization is a sticky wicket at the best of times, and we’re not even good at simpler divisions, like separating Southern from General Fiction. (We keep arguing the toss on Florida.)
Divvying up intense categories based on concepts over which people have literally been killed throughout history? Heh. We want to do the right thing. And we haven’t got a blooming clue what that is.