Books, Sorting Of, Sort Of

So this Chicago collection coming in to swell our local offering this year includes just about every book written about Jesse Jackson over the past 40 years. This presents a problem for book sorters, most of whom do not regard Jesse as a purely Chicago phenomenon. Are these books meant for Biography, History, or African-American Studies? Or SHOULD they go into Chicago?

Books that won’t fit neatly into one category: we get ‘em all the time. Even when the subject heading is thoughtfully provided by the publisher (nowadays, on the upper lefthand corner of the back cover of trade paperbacks, and often on the spine of mass market paperbacks) you can’t really COUNT on that. Sometimes we don’t have that category (Cat Spirituality?) and sometimes the subject chosen is not the best one for OUR purposes. (Books on J. Edgar Hoover go into Law & Crime, not biography.)

Sometimes we go for a split, hoping to hit twice the audience that way. Books on personal finance go into How To (Hands) but books on personal investments kinda ease over into the Business category. Some people will look for How To Invest In Stocks in one category, some in the other. So we hedge our bets. This does NOT excuse those of you who set it down in Humor: we must have some standards.

Books of houseplans depend on how complex they are: some of those can fit easily into How To (Hands) but others belong to Architecture. Etiquette is another touchy item, since it deals with manners but also with the nuts and bolts of arranging a gala banquet like the one at the Newberry this Thursday (unpaid advertisement.) It could easily go into How To (Hands) for its advice on tablesetting or How To (Head) for what you say when you drop the soup ladle on the host’s poodle. Some people insist it should go into reference, but this is not Our Way. (Have I whined about that yet: some people would put any work of nonfiction into Reference.) You will find these, friend, in How To (Hands), not far from the building plans and the stock tips.

These things come up all the time. Do those Art Institute catalogs go into Art or Chicago? (Usually Art, unless the subject is really linked to Chicago history.) Does that life of Barbra Streisand go into Music or Show Biz? Does the Talmud belong in Religion or Judaica? What about all these tomes by presidential candidates: Humor or Science Fiction?

I was testing a new sorter once and watched as he took fifteen minutes with a book on how interpersonal relationships between members of Congress affected legislation during the late 19th century. I was thinking History, myself, but I wondered whether he might pick Political Science, which was surely logical, or even Law. After much mulling, and with a sigh of relief, he set it down and told me he had to go meet someone for lunch.

I waited until he left to take it out of the Biography pile.

(Update on the general Smurfness of May, 2011: I have received a copy of Howard Carter’s book on the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. The book was published in stages, the first volume in 1923, the second in 1927, and the third, which was not published in the United States at that time, in 1933. This is the American edition, so it consists of only volumes one and two. Volume two was bought fresh off the stands—a first edition–but volume one, alas, was not. So, essentially, the first is a second, although the second is a first. Listen! The Smurfs! Isn’t that “Walk Like an Egptian”?) 

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