It's been only a few months since I took on the monumental task of organizing my books, and once again, they are a mess.
Last September, you might recall, I went through every book in the house and decided on what to keep and what to give. The "to give" pile turned into dozens of piles, bags and boxes, filling our front porch.
I hauled tables out into the front yard, invited friends and neighbors to stop by, and gave them all away.
The remaining books I organized like the librarian's daughter that I am: Fiction, alphabetical by author. Nonfiction, ditto. Biographies, alphabetical by name of subject. I designated shelves for subcategories: Memoir. Irish. Nature. Poetry. Autographed.
"Our shelves now gleam with wood polish and sunlight," I wrote back in October. "I can now, for the first time in a decade, find any book instantly. The house feels peaceful and orderly."
Nine months later: Gaaaaa!
I am back to piles of books on the dining room table, piles on the buffet, piles on the kitchen table, piles on the radiator by the front door, piles on the floor of my office, piles on the bedside table and piles on the bed.
The bookshelves, no longer gleaming, are back to having books placed horizontally on top of the neatly alphabetized rows because there isn't room to squeeze in new books and I don't have enough shelves to shift everything over.
What happened? Work happened. When I started working from home during COVID-19, publishers began sending review books to my house.
Also, birthdays and holidays happened. A neighborhood bookstore that delivers orders right to my front door happened. Little Free Libraries that are temptingly stocked happened.
I can't keep up and I'm not sure that anybody could.
A recent column in the Washington Post by Mark Athitakis caused me to look at my messy shelves in a new way.
Athitakis (whose name is probably familiar to regular readers of the Star Tribune because he's been reviewing books for us for more than 15 years) also tried to bring order out of his bookish chaos.
Like me, his didn't last.
He, too, blames his messy shelves on over-acquisition. "Though the pandemic mostly kept me out of bookstores, it didn't keep me from online ordering or occasional Goodwill runs," he says.
Unlike me, he has come to peace with this. He is a practical soul. Oversized books, such as Chris Ware's "Building Stories," don't fit on a traditional shelf, he notes. Genre-busting books defy categorization. And the simple act of removing a book to read can mess things up.
"In truth," Athitakis wrote, "the only library that can truly satisfy our sense of order is one you never touch."
He is absolutely right about this. Most of the piles in my house are books that are in some sort of state of use — I'm reading it, or reviewing it, or considering it for review, or I've assigned it to someone to review, or it has arrived unsolicited in the mail and I am still figuring out what to do with it.
"A neat library is a dead one," Athitakis writes, and while I know he is right I still think with longing of those five minutes last autumn when my shelves were gleaming and orderly.
So I shall ask you: Do you find this a never-ending task in your own home library? Do you have a secret way of keeping things orderly? Or do you, like Athitakis, embrace the chaos?
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This definitely requires further discussion.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks