Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Non fiction shelving

Today, due to a rash of illnesses and absences, I am upstairs shelving in the non fiction section. There are plenty of interesting books up here. Really there is much better browsing reading in non fiction than there is in fiction. We still have some weird hidden treasures out on these non fiction shelves. In fiction the great battleships of bestsellers, sweeping in and out of our shelving with their 14 identical copies, tend to purge out a lot of the strange old stuff. It scours the hidden corners of the shelves. Non fiction, more defined and particular, lends itself to diversity and obscurity.

So why do I like shelving here less? The first reason is that I don't like the long strings of Dewey Decimal numbers. Holding in my head ten numeric digits and two letters just to shelve one stupid non fiction book makes me want to, well, pause and write notes for an angry blog post about it instead. To me it's like if, in fiction, every author had the same long last name with tiny, inconsequential variations.

Marylynn Petterson, Marianne Patterson, Mary Anne Pattersen, Manny N. Paterson, and so on and on.

But that's not the main reason.

I am okay with nearly all the books in fiction. Yes, there are works of evil there, and an occasional book irritates me to no good end (I'm looking at you Kazuo Ishiguro!), but for the most part they're just stories. I can take most of the kinds of trouble people get up to telling stories. At least there's a kind of giving innocence somewhere in the heart of it.

Not so in non fiction. There are agendas out here! There are rank liars and opportunists. There are ugly books by bad people doing dark work on these shelves.

Don't get me wrong. I love non fiction every bit as much as fiction. I am writing non fiction right now. Casting my eyes about the books on these shelves I find nearly all of it is fine, or wonderful, or thorough, or trying, or decent, or acceptable, or who knows...

But occasionally too there are here books of hard core lies, nasty apologetics, ugly propaganda, all that no one could ever be the richer by in checking out. My incentive to shelve these books properly, in their meticulous numerical system, is low. And yet I do it, with all the same exactitude I would use to shelve a masterpiece.

But it stabs me a little each time, and I like it less.

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